Navigating Your Innovation Journey, On Purpose

April 11th, 2018

Over a ten-month period, innovation expert and guest blogger, Dr. Michael Murray has stepped us through the innovation process.

Through monthly posts, Dr. Murray has defined “innovation” and identified “innovators”.  He’s led us through the creative, the practical, the management and even the emotional aspects of innovation.

In this final post, Dr. Murray provides an example of stress that is inherent with innovation, and the range of responses available to manage it while focusing on the ultimate objective: success!


In this series I have provided a look inside the innovation journey, which can involve the creation and implementation of a new product, service, process, or platform. It can even be a template for our own personal journey. A key insight to take from these articles is that there is an array of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that we experience along the way, which can not only propel us forward but also hold us back. Our hard-wired stress response, to which we often default, will supersede the success response mindset unless we purposefully choose how we engage.

This can be easier said than done, and one way to gain this awareness and use it to your advantage is to use what I refer to as the Levels of Engagement framework. Throughout the day, our energy is moving along the spectrum of stress to success responses, as shown below.

Levels of Engagement framework.1 Each Level of Engagement has its characteristic thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and by being aware of where we and others are along the stress-to-success spectrum, we can:

  • Create clarity out of confusion
  • Take things less personally
  • Choose the response that best fits the situation
  • Accomplish more with less effort
  • Create better outcomes

Over time, we all develop engagement patterns, familiar and habitual ways in which we respond to situations. It is these engagement patterns that can be limiting and in which we can feel stuck. Understanding our engagement patterns and making adjustments that allow us to respond to situations purposefully can be a game changer. We can be in a stress response when it serves us (and it does), or we can shift our energy to levels that are associated with collaboration, empowerment, creativity, and innovation. The key is that we are choosing our level of engagement on purpose.

Let’s say that you’re relying on a third party to deliver a key component that is necessary for the pivotal testing of an innovative product you are developing. They inform one of your team members that they will be late in delivering the component, which will create an unacceptable delay in your testing program, causing several adverse downstream consequences. What choices do you have in this situation?

  1. Accept the delay and its adverse consequences, because there’s probably nothing you can do about it. You are in a heavy stress response associated with feeling helpless, out of control, and overwhelmed. You avoid informing others on your team about this delay.
  2. Demand that the vendor deliver the component on time, engage your legal team, threaten consequences. This feels better, but in reality you are still not in control and are in a heavy stress response.
  3. Set up conference calls with the vendor to try to figure out a solution that gets the component delivered on time. You are cooperating and trying to fix the problem, but still having to tolerate the situation. There is still a lot of stress in this situation, until you can fix the problem.
  4. Hire a consultant who is an expert in the production of this type of component to use his knowledge and experience to show the vendor how to fix the problem. You are trying to help the vendor solve their problem, by implementing the experience of your expert.
  5. Learn more about the vendor’s situation, sending a team to the vendor’s site to work side by side with them to come up with their best solution, which is the one they will implement successfully. At this level of engagement, you are using cognitive empathy, building trust, and leading to a collaborative solution. You are now in the success response zone!
  • The success mindset leads to more innovation and success. In the process of working collaboratively, your teams discover new ways of producing this critical component more efficiently, which will benefit the vendor, your company, and your customers when you move into full commercial production.
  • The leaders of your company and the vendor realize that their teams have uncovered an entirely new business opportunity, which leads to a new joint venture company. Yes, there’s a lot of uncertainty with this new company, but nothing ventured nothing gained!

Which of these choices is best? It depends on the situation! It may require intervention by your legal department to get what you need, but that will likely sour future relations with the vendor. The vendor may be able to implement the solution of an outside expert, but that could require considerable adjustments to their processes and an uncertain outcome. Working side by side with the vendor may allow both sides to uncover more possibilities for a solution that not only gets the critical component delivered on time but leads to longer term efficiencies and innovation. These are not hypothetical choices. I have observed each of these approaches and the outcomes one would expect at each Level of Engagement.

The innovation journey is really a composite of the personal journeys of the many people engaged in optimizing the value embedded in an idea that is new to you and your users. Understanding what motivates us to move forward, even in the face of uncertainty, or causes us to resist and hold back in order to stay safe and secure, is an underestimated, yet critical, component for success.  By becoming more proficient in navigating the levels of engagement spanning the stress and success responses, you’ll be able to get your great ideas to your users more effectively and continue to do so sustainably.

1The levels of engagement and their characteristics are adapted with permission from Schneider BD. Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life From the Core, 2008, John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ.


To read Dr. Murray’s previous posts on innovation, see the links below:
July 12, 2017: Innovation: What is it really?
August 8, 2017: Innovators: Who are they?
September 13, 2017: Innovation: How to do it (Part 1)
October 11, 2017: Innovation: How to do it (Part 2)
November 8, 2017: Innovation: How Empathizing Saved the Day
December 13, 2017: Innovation: How to do it (Part 3)
January 10, 2018: Innovation: How to do it (Part 4)
February 7, 2018: Navigating Your Innovation Journey
March 7, 2018: Navigating Your Innovation Journey: It’s All In Your Head


This post was written by Mike Murray, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, CPC. Dr. Murray is an innovation expert and a guest blogger on our site. He is a veterinarian, life and leadership coach, and certified trainer for Managing Innovation™. Mike is the founder of Level 5 Coaching and Consulting LLC (levelfivecoach.com)  and works with individuals and teams ready to stretch themselves and be even more successful innovators.