The Innovation Bunker – Avoiding Cognitive Traps Part Three

Often we forget to look back as we constantly get into that habit of always wanting to simply keep moving forward. So, sometimes I would recommend we stop and reflect. I, for myself, keep returning to great thinkers in innovation to remind me and these can often bring me back on track in avoiding certain traps.

Part Three of the Cognitive Traps we find ourselves in. Go here for Part One and Part Two

Signal AmplificationI’ve always valued one terrific observation of Professor Clayton Christensen (of many thoughts) where he talks of the core theories of innovation. One small part:

He states “theory helps to block out the noise and to amplify the signal

So I looked back at a theory to go forward to reduce our cognitive traps

If we link back into Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovation for much, it is not a bad place to go. He firstly offers us his five stages of adoption or the decision stages of the innovation-process of Knowledge, Persuasion, Decision, Implementation and Confirmation.

Within this five stage approach he raises the issue of cognitive dissonance, where people do have the (eventual) motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of these dissonant elements

Rogers also teaches us that knowledge acquisition, risk evaluation, value acceptance, social/economic/political constraints, adaptation to specific situations, time, money, and the expertise of change agents all influence the adoption of an innovation.  We need to bring these far more into our thinking so they can, over time, alter our cognitive biases to allow for ‘greater’ innovation.

In his work it is suggested we must encourage more comparisons that allow us to make greater connection, attempt to understand the innovation-decision (thinking through) process, encourage all around us changing attitudes, different behaviours and supporting structures and finally mitigate the risk and consequences when we push for adoption.

Isn’t there within all these connections a cognitive resolution pathway?

The more we share, the more we learn. The more we participate in open communities the more we can gain. The more we spend time in seeking new knowledge the more we see fresh alternatives.

Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations can be a more than useful frame for our learning strategies for gaining adoption that we are presently struggling with. In our board rooms the cognitive bias is partly because much of the thinking is based on their past experiences, often gained in different times and circumstances. They are often more uncertain than you are, due to these increased complexities and volatiles, feeling less equipped to deal with them, so our role is to increasingly bridge these anxieties.

The challenge we have as innovators is to convince those within the boardrooms that there are new tools, new ways, new approaches that do not place the core business at more risk but can provide the foundation for experimentation, for exploring in new ways. If there is no pushing of our thinking and staying within our comfort zones, well it leaves us at greater risk.  So  we need to have a clear approach to allow this wanting to experiment but for it to occur in ‘concurrence’ and support by those that are around us.

We need an adoption process to take into the boardrooms

If we agree still with Everett Rogers characteristics of innovation then perhaps we can start here for raising change in our board rooms more often. To overcome these cognitive traps spoken off by Henry Chesbrough and others, then we do need a framework to unify around and use. We need a thinking through process to work through to reduce these cognitive traps. One that engages others in this agreed structure.

I think we have a terrific one offered up by Everett Rogers to tackle cognitive traps.

To get anyone out of their own thinking trap we need to associate it to what would be valued. We can offer an uniformed path based on Everett Rogers five steps principle

  • What we must always offer in any conversation is a clear relative advantage to what is presently available, so we can gain permission and set about to explore better alternatives, to clarify this and gain general acceptance.
  • If we can offer compatibility with our own and other people’s existing values, and explore a migration path from their past experiences we might get more space to experiment. We need to draw others in and so we have to align ourselves to their experiences to frame it to their thinking bias. This becomes a job-to-be-done on unearthing unmet needs or the needs that can be improved upon.
  • The new tools, methods and techniques can certainly help us to explain complexity to reduce the perceived difficulties of adopting new practices. The whole gambit of gaming, the canvas techniques, visual mapping, design thinking all help considerably here.
  • We then can offer new ways for trialability to experiment in safe and limited risk ways. Lay out a clear path of experimentation and result milestones to manage expectancies and gain increasing support commitment. Steve Blank’s contention of “getting out of the building” and his customer development process offers one of many ways to learn, pivot and progress in bite-sized steps.
  • Finally, we can provide observability, so others can see the results we can make progress. By keeping this open, it can be clearly challenged and blocked in many ways but openness and transparency does eventually reduce resistance. If we can clarify change and our progress in learning we give others understanding. It is when we fail to communicate what they need to hear, we are more likely to be blocked or our project cancelled. We need to ‘demonstrate’ progress and show its value.

Everett Rogers five steps might offer up a possible pathway to unlock much within innovation and reduce our cognitive biases we all have that traps us often not to move forward.

We need to break free of our personal and collective cognitive traps.

To innovate differently, we need to open our thinking to as much of the diversity that is going on all around us as possible. We need to unlock innovation in new, imaginative ways. The more we open our minds, our organizations and allow new tools, new thinking in concepts, experiences and ideas, then the more we permeate and change existing beliefs. We need to start looking around us and see the multiple ways we can get out of our traps and biases in thinking.

Our rationale and reasoning change progressively as we expose ourselves to new experiences and new knowledge, then innovation can surely follow.  I think we do ‘play’ into to many innovation bunkers. We can’t ignore the cognitive traps all around us but if we become more conscious of them I do believe with constant practice we can easily  avoid many of them with the right mind frame, the right approach and the awareness of what others are seeking within the collective frame we need to work through.

Avoiding the cognitive traps  needs consciously working upon in discipline and resolution.

Cognitive traps are not good for any innovation, especially transformational work. They are vital to understand if we are reliant on others. We can work far more consciously at surfacing differences but within a clear, open and transparent approach. A cognitive bias is a mental error that is often consistent and predictable. We can often anticipate them and be ready to offset them, in ways that ‘appeal’ to those with these biases.

So by making innovation a process where we work on reducing all those places of variance where we might not have a clear process, structures and design for innovation we might get less (cognitive) resistance. Equally if we can work more consciously being open, showing ‘increasing’ evidence, talking through probabilities, risks and returns and finally working harder on understanding the pressures, uncertainty and needs of others we might reduce many of the (hidden) barriers and ‘draw out’ those that have reservations.

Open conversations based on mutual knowledge can go an awful long way to reduce these cognitive barriers. Irrespective we need to be constantly aware of others and their opinions.

So we need to consciously  craft the alternative.

I leave you with this final contribution of “we need to craft an alternative path” a visual by John Hagel. It sums it all up at the end: “our actions individually and collectively will determine whether opportunity or challenges prevail“.

For me, innovation needs the challenges of working collectively together, so we all can move towards the opportunities, We need to avoid those cognitive traps and play out of the innovation bunker well and the best way to do this is to learn to seek out knowledge.

We need to recognize, value and exploit together in open and collaborative ways to reduce these personal biases and cognitive traps we can often fall into. We need to leverage all of today’s cognitive structures all around us that include mental structures, mental tools, and patterns of thought offered to us in new exciting ways with a little bit of older theory perhaps, thrown in.

4 thoughts on “The Innovation Bunker – Avoiding Cognitive Traps Part Three

  1. Really nice series Paul – thanks! Great to see Everett Rogers getting some play. That book is a landmark. It’s probably worthwhile for us to give deeper consideration to these older pieces that have stood the test of time – another trap that we innovation people fall into is always looking for the next new idea!


  2. I think we often neglect the past, dismissing it as not relevant to the present or the future. I think it does have relevance, the issue often is simply updating the assumptions or theory to reflect today’s (better) understandings


  3. Pingback: The Innovation Bunker – Avoiding Cognitiv...

  4. Pingback: Absorptive Capacity, Knowledge Management and Innovation Capacity | Paul4innovating's Blog

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