The Innovation Bunker – Our Cognitive Traps Part One

I suspect we are all cognitively trapped most of the time. We are all more ‘hard-wired’ than we would care to admit too. That cognitive bias that ‘permits’ us to make constant errors of judgement, ignore often the advice around us and certainly gloss over the knowledge provided or staring us in the face. Innovation does need us to break out of these cognitive biases if we want to really develop something very different, more transformational.

We should all recognize this constrain we all have, it might help our innovation activity. We are often guilty of being overconfident, actually staying nicely in a rut. Just how many times do we offer ill-framed challenges from lazy thinking or fail to offer the proper context into the discussions early enough, to avoid conversations that wasted our times or reduce the recommendations based on inadequate information. We also simply allow poor idealization because we did not prepare enough or we want to immediately link back something new into our realm of experience, screening out emerging alternatives. We do these, all of the time.

Have you ever checked out the number of cognitive biases we have? Do, it is staggering. They are everywhere, in our daily decision-making, in our belief systems and of course our behavioral stances. We have social biases, memory error ones that are just within us. We simply want to make sense of the world and you  take it back to your experiences, your rationalities, those specific conditions so you can replicate it, map it back to something.

We all end up in the worst innovation bunkers

Innovation Bunker the Cognitive Trap

For innovation we often fall into the equivalent of the worst bunker in a round of golf and then what happens next can often make or break your day (like your golfing round). We firstly try to make sense of the situation before deciding on the course of action or do we simply resort to our past experiences as our norm? Often we quickly fall back and rely on past experience, and ‘blast’ away, in our wishful thinking that we are all Tiger Woods, not recognizing the need for a certain detachment and more rational assessment by having the right combination of experience and the tools to do the job. We end up in even worse traps.

Recently for me cognitive thinking has been triggered twice.

Firstly, the first trigger was one comment made by Henry Chesbrough at the recent Business Design summit. He suggested boards of many large organizations are “cognitively trapped” when it comes to opening up to new Business models and different thinking and approaches. Often it seems, that our leaders ignore new ways to do things,  to understand, claiming either no time or the approaches look complicated. They chose to not explore new business models as they are often simply cognitively trapped.

Henry Chesbrough has written about this in his books, one being “Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape” and how the prevailing wisdom is so entrenched, it looks only to fit existing logic and simply filters out any variance or alternative. This dominating logic becomes their trap, in not recognizing the changes taking place before their eyes, dismissing all the growing logic of exploring new business models. They are in the locked-in innovation trap. They ignore what is actually going on around them and then get caught out. How can we change this?

The second was in an article written by Andy Zynga, the CEO of NineSigma International on “The Innovator Who Knew Too Much”. Here he brings out the ‘curse of knowledge’ and cites the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath on this ‘curse of knowledge’ leading to communication failures.  In an article they offer this thought “The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.”

I wrote back to Andy: “The curse (of knowledge) goes well beyond that of a particular industry, it is the curse of specialization in a given field, subject, research topic, etc. Cognitive bias sits in the boardroom, throughout organizations holding innovation back. The barrier for open innovation is to not be allowed to challenge this – the increasing difficulty is that determination to structure an appropriate brief, set screening targets that dismiss everything looking “left field” is placing constraints in our thinking, evolution or engagement processes”

So we are both equally cognitively trapped and cursed with existing knowledge. Not a good place to be when it comes to innovation.

Also we seem to “lock-in” our decisions far too early

I’ve offered up before that much of the “fuzzy front end” seems to ignore or downplay so much that could be more than helpful to us in exploring innovation that ‘makes a real difference’. In a past argument of mine I have suggested we need to extend the innovation funnel back before we bring it into the more traditional innovation funnel process. In an article on this “the New Extended Innovation Funnel” I am suggesting we spend far more time in the depth of (alternative) evaluation, well before even the idea stage. It can offer up a different richness of thinking.

We need to start thinking more in ‘concepts’ where we can explore as so many of the different connecting points that we can come across from our increasing open networks that can offer such a variety of trigger points. Today we screen these out as the brief is encouraged to be ‘tightly written’ or the time we have been given is ridiculously limited. If we could only open this up and use the open innovation principles more in ourselves being more receptive in thinking and possibility, we might see different innovations emerging that offer a more ‘transforming’ effect on our innovation activities..

If we could allow our minds to be open to possibilities that whole lot earlier, being less fixated, to explore richer possibilities that might be far more transformational, we might have less incremental moments. We lock in to ideas that ‘simply’ aligned to what we already do they ignore real innovation breakthroughs . We need to open up our thinking to these nascent concepts. Ones that show early signs of where there might be some ‘weak signals’ that should be picked up upon as offering promise if we work on them and make the different connections to make these transforming to our business.

We often allow our fixations, bias and the consequences to make it all intensive on the incremental, this huge bias on the ‘here and now’ for the necessary delivery within the existing time horizons. My very argument for seeing innovation across three horizons is this lack of breakthrough in products, in our thinking, that organizations need and eventually this leads to the innovation deficits that catches so many organizations unaware.

We need to open our minds to possibilities

We need to challenge our cognitive bias far more. Hopefully in that less pressured early concept stage, to allow the ‘forming’ idea to ‘percolate’ before it enters the established and traditional innovation funnel. You know the one, that magical place, where it has to perform in jumping the hurdles, crossing the barriers that we have lovingly set up to make us more efficient and productive in our innovation processes. Sadly those that often give us even more self-inflicted wounds where logical fallacies take hold to win arguments.

Why do I suggest trying to make connections so early on, doesn’t that conflict with cognitive bias and that aspect of our need to make our necessary connections? So as to relate it to our experiences so that we can filter and judge it. No, because we do suffer from this ‘curse of knowledge’, the more we know, the more we make a personal judgement, that can often be so wrong or just outside our existing experiences.

How can we overcome cognitive bias? Tackling this differently.

We need to fight those very cognitive traps as the more it is like something we know the more we will shape it to this. That is the very reason we must open our minds, to allow a new fresh thinking to emerge into something more transformational, more new to the world and challenge our existing thinking.

I believe there are ways we can tackle these traps, solutions are actually all around us if we can make some new connections.

In my next post I’ll attempt to tackle some of my thoughts that might reduce our bias traps and allow us to get out of our innovation bunker in better ways.

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3 thoughts on “The Innovation Bunker – Our Cognitive Traps Part One

  1. Pingback: The Innovation Bunker – Getting Out of the Cognitive Traps Part Two | Paul4innovating's Blog

  2. Pingback: The Innovation Bunker – Avoiding Cognitive Traps Part Three | Paul4innovating's Blog

  3. Pingback: Complexity – it’s not simple: Solving the right problem Part 3 | the innovation rainforest

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