Developing innovative mindset

The innovative mindset assumptions are supported by the modern science showing the neuroplasticity of our brain. It is the brain ability to change even in adult years. With practice and facing challenges we are able to form new brain connections and create positive changes in our brain (7).

To be able to effectively create innovation we need to train our brain to avoid quick obvious solutions and not depend on intelligence, ability to recall information, break down problems and work them out based on past experience. To do so, we need to overcome our personal barriers to innovation (11):

  • Internal fears,
  • Discomfort with feeling uncomfortable,
  • Past failures,
  • Status quo and politics.

So how do we do it?

By developing the innovative mindset. Mindset is an important part of your personality, but it is based on your beliefs. However strong they are, you can change your beliefs. While the mindset change is neither an easy, nor a fast process, the great news is you already made a first step!

Step 1! Realise what the innovation mindset is

Simply learning about the innovation mindset may mobilize people to expose themselves to challenges, try harder to overcome the obstacles and recognise the value of learning from mistakes. The mindset change is though usually more difficult than that. Mindset change is not about picking up a few ideas here and there. It is about strong commitment to change, investing the time, effort and often the comfort of your deep-rooted beliefs (2).

Step 2! Commit to work toward it

To keep yourself motivated to work toward your innovative mindset and goals look for motivational stories teaching that capacities are not set in stone and we can develop them by effort, proper strategies and engagement. Look for articles, books or movies describing people that, despite being judged as lacking the abilities in the specific area, did not gave up and reached extraordinary results. Look for stories that speak to you personally.

Examples of real stories include:

  • Albert Einstein – considered as mentally handicapped as a child. The common symbol of genius and Nobel Prize winner did not speak till the age of four and was unable to read till the age of seven.
  • Vincent Van Gogh – which sold just a single painting along his lifetime. Despite it, the famous artist left 800 paintings, some valued currently over 100 million $
  • Steven Spielberg – who got rejected twice from the University of Southern California film school. After finally getting education at Cal State University and directing some of the biggest blockbusters in history, Spielberg was granted in 1994 honorary degree from the school that rejected him twice.
  • Walt Disney – whose first animation company went bankrupt and his following employer fired him for the lack of imagination. A current symbol of innovativeness and creativity.
  • Michael Jordan – who has been cut from his high school basketball team before he became all-time NBA legend.

All the stories, besides the innovative mindset have a strong denominator of strong drive and objective in mind to keep the innovation mindset alive. As the mindset will improve different areas of your life, look for your personal objective. Whether it is:

– improving your learning abilities,

– reaching your full potential,

– becoming a better leader,

– improving your carrier and job satisfaction,

– helping your children reaching their full potential,

– improving your relations with loved ones,

or any other. Write it down and save it on your desk, desktop or phone. Go back to it whenever things get difficult.

After you establish a strong motivation for transformation:

Step 3! Define your starting point and barriers

For some people innovative mindset is almost natural. However, more commonly our mindset is set somewhere in-between the innovative mindset and the fixed mindset of fear. Our beliefs can also differ significantly in different areas or even shift along the time and depending on circumstances.

One of possible metrics is how fast we are to label ourselves. Think about the example of failing the test. What would be your first reaction? Now, think about different areas of your life? If the example would refer to a fail of important project in job, first approach to trying new activity or failed relationship? Would the reaction differ? Different answers in respect to different areas can show our different beliefs regarding the role of mistakes and possibility to learn in different areas. Hence, show diversified mindset in those areas. Remember that we are capable of improvement in each of them. Try to use those areas in which you are comfortable with mistakes as learning opportunity, as an example to change your beliefs in the remaining areas.

Another common metric is how fast you simplify a challenge to fit into your past experiences and solutions. If you constantly do it you are far from the innovation mindset.

What makes developing innovative mindset difficult are common barriers (11):

1/ Stability, comfort and risk aversion

Feeling comfortable with innovation requires becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, to embracing risk, be ready to face unpredictable and get out of the comfort zone. Meanwhile, we commonly have tendency to avoid small activities we don’t feel comfortable with. Either it is having our photos taken, opening the dance floor, singing karaoke, making public presentation or watching a video of you, resistance to this type of activity and how we face the discomfort shows our level of preparation for innovation. While the activities independently on our performance don’t bring serious consequences, avoidance is a serious symptom of the subconscious tendency to exaggerate risks and low preparation for putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Look at the small activities in social and professional life. Which of them are you afraid of? How often do you put yourself to overcome the discomfort related with those activities?

2/ Fear and stress

Fear can take the best intentions and strong positive beliefs and twist them into confusing and desperate actions, i.e. rejecting help, constructive advice or just behaving like impatient, immature child at a team meeting.

Fear has strong impact on our reactions and life (11):

  • the fear of judgement – what-if-I-lose-my-status kind of fear – it causes tendency not to do anything that could attract attention or share different from others points of view. It commonly leads to conformism and lack of participation,
  • the fear of conflict – what-if-I-am-not-liked kind of fear – it can lead to anxiety whenever you expect opposition or tension associated with your inputs or honest opinions. As a reaction, people tend to easily change and adjust their opinions, soften them or even avoid expressing them to avoid conflict,
  • the fear of change – what-if-I-am-not-prepared kind of fear – it causes resistance to changes,
  • the fear of unknown – what-if-I-am-not-as-smart-as-I-thought – can cause negative reactions to conflicting ideas or instant rejection of your own and other ideas whenever they do not fit your familiar reference system,
  • the fear of mistakes – what-if-I-am-not-perfect – it results in perfectionism and tendency for constant overthinking, overanalysing or over-preparing.

Look at the list of common fears and their consequences. Think about situations in which fear made you behave in a way contrary to your intentions or stopped you from doing something important for you or your development. Are there situations referring to specific area of your life or activity? If so, write it down.

3/ Habits

While habits serve important purpose of saving our brain power, bad habits – the behaviours rooted in fear, are the reason why transformation of our mindset is not just a case of making a commitment. Habits are difficult to replace and cause our brain to react automatically. To replace a habit we need to define what triggers it and consistently implement a new routine whenever the trigger occurs.

While a number of habits can obstruct innovation, we present 7 innovators’ behaviours that can replace some common fear-based habits. Analyse your barriers to innovation and prepare a plan to overcome them based on the strategies presented. Remember that changing habits is a long-term process. The period required will depend on the strength of the initial habit, but minimum 30 days of repetition is required to make behaviours habitual (2, 11).

Step 4! Develop plan to overcome the barriers

Practice is a way to achieve behavioural change and developing innovation mindset. Look at the behaviours presented below. Read the description carefully. Order them from 1 to 7, where 1 – stands for ‘I feel the strongest in the area’, to 7 – ‘I feel it is my weakest point’. Depending on the number, make a schedule plan in which you will put exercises to practice the behaviours – for 1 – once a week, for 7 – seven times per week. And remember, only consistence and practice will allow you to make a change toward the innovative mindset.


Step 5! Constantly practice productive behaviours to create behavioural change

Behaviour 1 – Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

Getting better at things and increasing your innovative abilities requires facing awkwardness and discomfort. Think about all the small activities that make you feel uncomfortable that you identified in the step 3. From the list chose one that is the least uncomfortable for you. Whatever it is, schedule it in your plan for this week (11).

Prepare well for it. Remember the objective is to make small steps to see that there are no severe consequences of the action, even if it does not go well.

  1. List realistic spectrum of consequences – will it be just a negative self-judgement or a happy laughter of a friend in the audience or behind a camera? Work on realistic scenario.
  2. Set acceptable boundaries on how much risk you are going to take. Get comfortable and accustomed with the boundaries.
  3. Find the bigger picture to which the activity will bring you closer to. Whether it will be – more innovative mindset, getting closer with your team or gaining stronger self-confidence by overcoming the barrier. Write the goal down. Remember that practicing will make you better in the activity and will increase your comfort

After the experience take a short break re-evaluate your list of consequences by inputting realistic evaluation of the first approach and try the activity again. After you feel relatively at ease, chose the next item on your list.


Behaviour 2 – Listening

Listening is crucial at every stage of innovation process. Within innovation listening is not just about using your ears. It requires noticing the obvious and picking up the most subtle things. It is crucial for developing innovation that will solve a specific issue, but it is also a key to move innovation through institutional processes by basing it on the audience needs understanding.

To practice listening (11):

  1. Work on your attention – Define things that make you distracted during conversations, list them and look to eliminate them while talking with people, i.e. chose a quiet place and switch off your mobile.
  2. Recognise different levels – Watch a program or movie in unknown language. Look how much plot, emotions, humour you can pick up on from in-verbal and verbal communication.
  3. Process information at intellectual as well as emotional level – listen to a radio/online podcast presenting opinions that strongly differ from yours. After listening for 10 minutes analyse what you heard and list three things you actually agree with.
  4. Be intentional about your bias and discard it – listen openly during a specified amount of time. During that time assume that the person may teach you the most important thing you’ve ever learned. Give the speaker your full attention and look for curiosity to discover it.
  5. Recover your attention if you lose it – Find a presentation on a topic that is of no interest to you. Watch or listen and observe how long it takes you to stop focusing on the content. When your mind starts to wander try to regain control and return to active listening.


Behaviour 3 – Deferring judgement

To refine, analyse and make decisions we need significant dose of judgement. However, postponing the judgement can enrich thinking, and the pool of ideas and possibilities a team gets to work with. Putting some space between the moment of receiving information and the judgement process will allow us to minimise the automatic and often emotional responses frequently leading to uninformed and irrational judgement. Creating the space enable us to gather complementary information, our teammate’s points of view or other versions of the information to make better decisions (11).

To practice deferring judgement (11):

  1. Make a pause before responding – time it according to circumstances.
  2. Say thank you, and really mean it, before responding.
  3. Focus on ‘what if’ rather than ‘it’s not going to work because’ – say ‘yes and’ as conjunction.
  4. Give up on your bias and subconscious judgements – receiving information assume that it is neutral – it is just information that at least at the beginning is neither good nor bad.
  5. Control your emotions to avoid emotional responses – take a deep breath and relax your body before any response.


Behaviour 4 – Make clear statements

Making clear statements focuses on letting others know who we are, where we are, what we stand for, what is our opinion and what we want to accomplish. A strong statement is clear, concise and rich in content. The level of diversity in points of view is one of the key indicators of rich, powerful innovation. Contributing to innovation requires sharing your points of view.

To practice making statements (11):

  1. Speak up – if you find yourself hesitating, study the reason why. If it is a communication channel you are not comfortable with, i.e. speaking in public, try alternatives. Find one that works for you – email, drawing, letter, phone call…
  2. Articulate your emotions – start using ‘I feel’ statements. It will help you to better understand and control your emotions and manage them in a productive manner.
  3. Increase your self-awareness – evaluate each statement you are making and how you are making it. Make sure you are not sending unconscious non-verbal messages and that your body language corresponds to your verbal communication.
  4. Close feedback loop – confirm with your recipient that your statement was received and correctly understood. Ask the person to give an example illustrating the message you were trying to transmit if you have any doubt.


Behaviour 5 – Reframing

Reframing is about seeing situation differently and finding alternative paths towards a solution. It allows overcoming obstacles in innovation process, as well as by asking ‘what if’ and ‘how about’ reinvent and create more possibilities.

We can always simply stop, evaluate our current position and perception of the situation and force ourselves to look at it differently, from another point of view.

To practice reframing (11):

  1. Write 5 alternative endings to a movie or book you saw/read recently. Decide which one you like the most.
  2. Make a list of 10 things that ended up much different, but better then you expected.
  3. Think about fictional dream holidays with three very different people you know. Imagine how much a holiday plan would differ if you plan it with each of them.
  4. Think about the most used technology in your life (e.g. car, electricity, phone). Imagine how would you solve the challenges that you would face if losing each of them.
  5. Think about your current projects. Think how you could accomplish it without a budget.


Behaviour 6 – Jumping in

No behaviour will positively impact innovation if you won’t just start. That what Jumping in is all about. As innovation is about creating something new that is completely uncertain, the only way we are actually able to know what to do next is just to begin doing something. It seems harder than it is because staying in the phase of information collection is comfortable and allows us to feel safe. However, in the scope of innovation the ability to start in a situation of highly limited information is a must. While decisions should not be reckless, at some point the ground research has to be finished. The uncertainty in innovation process requires us to balance the trust between the data and our instincts to make a decision.

In fact we often imagine the beginning as a huge, risk-filled, life changing step, while it can be as simple as making the decision, making a commitment, taking new role or responsibility. Divide the beginning into a series of small steps and just do the next small thing.

To practice (11):

  1. Establish deadlines. List 3 things that you need to finalise during next month. Put them in order where 1 stands for ‘I know it needs to be done, but I am the most resistant to do it’. Finalise number 1 in the next 24 hours. Set reasonable deadlines for the remaining.
  2. Make other people keep you responsible for jumping in. Share your deadlines with a trusted friend and ask him/her to check if you kept them.
  3. Listen to your instincts – if it says go, just go – if there is a person in your life you were considering to reconnect with, write a message to him/her right away.
  4. Use the 70% rule – make a decision whenever you are 70% sure and adjust later. Find an easy low-risk house project. Make a list of information you will need. Gather 70% of those and just start.
  5. Make a bold move – put yourself in a situation where the only way is to move forward – the next meeting/event requiring inputs go first!


Behaviour 7 – Learning orientation

Long-life learning is a base for any innovation. It is iterative process of gathering and putting information into action, making mistakes, adjusting and trying again. Every real challenge requires adjustments and a lot of learning. Innovative people judge every situation by their implications for learning and establish constructive actions towards long-term development.

To practice learning orientation:

  1. Every day ask yourself: 1/ What have I learned today? 2/ What can I improve tomorrow?
  2. Think about an area of your expertise. Join community that could provide you access to complementary knowledge in the area, i.e. professional network or thematic forum. Listen/read carefully to the contributions. Provide your feedback to them when some ideas pop up in your head.
  3. Look at the events in your past that you believe measured you or impact you? What did you or could you learn from those experiences? How can you use it as a basis for growth?
  4. Make a list of things you should learn to improve expertise in the area you are interested in. Identify the one that could push you the strongest toward reaching your professional objectives. Divide the process into small steps and start the first one.


Step 6! Enjoy the development process and benefits of improving your mindset