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Navigating Your Innovation Journey

February 7th, 2018

What is the greatest threat to innovation in an organization? Innovation coach and guest blogger, Dr. Michael Murray reveals it in this eighth post of his 10-part series.

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Great news! After a couple of iterations of testing and refining your potential solution, you’ve hit upon something that people seem to really like. You’re almost there, right? Well, not quite. In fact, depending on the solution you have created, the really difficult part could lie ahead. That’s because you are still  early in your innovation journey. Recall from “Innovators, Who Are They?” that we can envision the innovation journey as being comprised of five stages: Searching, Exploring, Committing, Realizing, and Optimizing. At this point, you are poised to move from the Exploring phase to the Committing phase, where individuals with the authority to green-light your project, or kill it, will decide whether to run a larger scale pilot, continue into full development, go back and get more information, or stop the project altogether.

Let’s assume that you have been given the “green light” and ample resources to move forward. Your project is now in the Realizing phase. In most organizations, several people will now become engaged in bringing the solution to market. This is where things can get interesting, because not only do each of these individuals have a particular expertise and skillset to contribute to the success of the project, they also have their own perspective on this project and how it impacts them. Where on the list of their responsibilities and priorities does the work they’ll need to do for this project lie? Who is determining their priorities? Unless you are self-employed or work in a very small organization, that person is probably not you. And even if the CEO of the company declares that this project is a number one priority, there is a crucial reality that every innovator must understand.

Each individual perceives situations in their own unique way and often from the perspective of a self-protective stress response.

Because of this, people will behave in ways that are in their self-interest, even when they are unaware of this motivation! We all do this, and yet this basic aspect of human nature is typically overlooked. We see it all the time, but we just call it by different names: politics, processes and regulations, budgetary priorities, resource constraints, micro-managing, missing deadlines, ignoring emails. What we notice is the behaviors and outcomes, which often slow down or stop innovation altogether. Of course, that is usually not the intention, but because each person is acting according to his or her own self-protective perspective, it is one of the single greatest threats to innovation in an organization. Think of examples of how this has impacted innovation in your organization.

There are many moments and situations in which we habitually default to a self-protective stress response. Ultimately, it boils down to fear, and the common trigger for these fears is uncertainty (aka risk), which we unconsciously associate with a fear of failure, and more specifically a fear of loss. Loss of job may come immediately to mind, and within that thought is embedded loss of security, reputation, and sense of self-worth. These are the fears that keep us hunkered down in our self-protective silo, where we can maintain the illusion of safety, keeping us from trying things that might not work, and even crushing new ideas!

So how can we get past our self-protective stress response, which is hard-wired inside our brains and which we have honed and fine-tuned throughout our lives? In the next segment, I’ll contrast the stress response with a “success response”, and provide tips on how to get there.

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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)

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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 has just launched Level 5 Coaching and Consulting LLC to work with individuals and teams ready to stretch themselves and be even more successful innovators.

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