It has been over 50,000 since human beings lived in caves. All those years ago, life was pretty much about survival – each morning our ancestors would emerge from their caves and scan the horizon for imminent danger. Although things have changed a lot in our external environment in the last few thousand years, in many ways, the wiring in our brains has not. In fact, 90% of what you and I do on a day to day basis is still based on that ancient wiring and survival mentality and it is precisely this legacy that needs to be re-directed to prevent self sabotage from holding you back, personally and professionally.
You see our brains are wired to spot and avoid danger. It is because of these primitive instincts that we all have a tendency toward self sabotage.
Even though the danger may not be “life or death”, we see this dynamic play out in our work environments almost every day. For every daring and outlandish new idea that is proposed by one hopeful soul, there will be a long list of skeptical colleagues who are willing to offer 20 reasons why the idea might fail or cause harm. This sabotages innovation and progress.
So, how does this play out exactly?
We seem to have a biological urge to save people from themselves – this may take the form of overtly belittling the person with the idea, tearing the proposal to shreds, refusing to examine or consider the suggestion seriously or creating an environment where it is unsafe to brainstorm or take risks. Instead of fostering initiative and exploring options, the focus is immediately shifted to put up protective roadblocks and creative stop signs (i.e. sabotage).
Does any of this sound familiar?
Either the voice in your own head that says “you cannot do it” or the guy who sits two cubicles away and has a knack for tearing everyone else’s ideas to shreds… yet he can never seem to come up with an innovative or original solution of his own. In our vigour to ensure that new ideas are properly vetted and scrutinized, our ancient and hard-wired brain response to scan for danger and protect ourselves, is effectively killing innovation. This automatic reaction needs to be identified and consciously overridden in order to ensure that we (as individuals and organizations) start generating novel and constructive solutions to problems.
3 Tips to Avoid Sabotage and Foster Innovation
1.Eliminate “But” – Instead of searching for looking for defects or pointing out why something won’t work, focus on how you can add to the discussion or process. When you (or someone else) conceives of a concept or strategy, resist the urge to say “yes, but that will never work because”. By substituting the word “and”, it will allow you to constructively add to or expand upon the idea rather that stopping the creative process dead in its tracks. This slight change in words and focus will exponentially impact creativity and reduce sabotage.
2.Don’t mix right and left – Creativity and innovation are often associated with predominately “right” brain thinking. While critiquing and evaluation are often considered the domain of the “left” brain. It is difficult (particularly in a group dynamic) to generate momentum around creativity and imagination while simultaneously attempting to evaluate and examine each idea. Even the most adept and flexible brain will struggle to shift gears back and forth. In order to create the best environment for each and get the best results, it is preferable to schedule a separate time for brainstorming and appraisal.
3.Put away your club, caveman – It takes approximately one second, from the time you physically react to something in your environment that generates a strong emotion, to when your conscious mind kicks in and you start to think things through. When generating new ideas and searching for innovative solutions, resist the urge to club suggestions to death. Take a deep breath and think things through before commenting verbally. Consider using a trained facilitator for group sessions – this will keep everyone accountable and provide an objective perspective if the atmosphere becomes in conducive to advancement.
I once heard a senior manager chastise someone in front of 14 colleagues for suggesting an idea that seemed [to him] preposterous and impractical. You could have heard a pin drop in that room and it pretty much shut down the communication for the rest of the meeting. Nothing got solved and everyone left deflated. In one foul blow that manager essentially killed any hope of brainstorming a viable solution. At the end of the day, every problem has a solution. The key is to harness and re-direct the infinite potential within your own mind (and the collective mind of the team) to find the inspiration that will produce the desired result.