What is preventing us from reaching our full potential in 2018?
As we begin another new year full of challenges and exciting opportunities, ideally refreshed after a break from the office, it’s a good time to consider our approach to how we work. Are we innovative? Have we been drawing on our full arsenal of industry, technology and product knowledge, working across departmental borders and taking considered risks to truly develop new and useful solutions and processes?
No one approaches a problem thinking of ways to be LESS innovative, but recent research has shown we are all susceptible to allowing prior experience to blind us to new possibilities, subconsciously using knowledge of earlier solutions to reduce the options that we explore when responding to new problems.
It’s a common occurrence: when faced with a familiar problem, most of us will default to things that succeeded in the past. And while this approach often works, it can also limit thinking and prevent alternatives from being considered. In psychology, this phenomenon is known as Fixation, or the ‘Einstellung’ effect.
From marketing teams rehashing successful campaigns, to “safe” decision-making in organisations to the interpretations that scientists make of their data and the way that engineers dig tunnels, design fixation is preventing us from reaching our full potential.
“Whether designing a new toy, a new bridge, or a new piece of software, fixation can stop the creative process cold: severely limiting the way in which we see a problem and the variety of solutions we explore.”
Dr Nathan Crilly, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge
What is causing design fixation and how can we address it?
LOW BUDGETS & TIME CONSTRAINTS
Quick – be creative!
It would be great if our clients came to us with deep pockets and generous timings, but 90% of the time they need it yesterday and have only managed to extract a modest budget from the bean counters. Designs that take a lot of research and iterations to perfect are costly and often we just don’t have the luxury of exploring every potential option.
This is one benefit of our Digital Workplace Injio. Born of many SharePoint projects, we have already invested the time and effort to create and optimise the product, and learned from previous mistakes so our clients don’t have to. Our roadmap also ensures optimisation is an ongoing process so if a new innovation isn’t ready for the immovable launch date, it can be perfected and deployed later.
With a new project that demands genuinely inventive solutions, ensure you have a diverse team to bring varied perspective and experience to your thinking. In your brainstorm, have everyone present two or three ideas to the group, so some pressure is removed and introverts have a chance to share their ideas.
RISK AVOIDANCE CULTURE
Innovation is risky. The investment in time to invent and test product or process iterations does not always result in a better outcome. When mistakes are not embraced as part of the innovation process, solution designers can be afraid to pitch new ideas.
“The challenge for many employers is embracing the change that comes with creative thinking. Being open to change – to testing out ideas and then adjusting realities – can include threats as well as opportunities.”
Probably the most well-known success story in addressing this problem is Google and their “20%” program that allows developers to spend 20% of their work hours on a creative project with no hard outcomes or expectations. You might not be able to afford 20%, but encouraging your teams to explore their ideas – and providing some budget to assist – will reinforce a creative culture as well as potentially resulting in a marketable solution.
A central information repository to share successes, learnings and failures can help realise returns on innovation investment by making sure separate teams can learn from each other’s mistakes. Our client Cancer CRC uses their Injio intranet to help researchers share documents and facilitate dialogue across disciplines.
“HOW” BEFORE “WHAT”
If your team is brainstorming ideas, concentrating too early on implementation can stifle creativity, focusing on what is, rather than what could be. Some ideas might require a skillset that is not in the room, but discounting them just because no one is sure how it can be done would be a mistake.
“The fastest way to kill the creative process is by requiring your team to produce tactical solutions in tandem with creative ideas.”
When time permits, schedule separate meetings for What and then How, with appropriate resources contributing to each stage. In your brainstorm, make it clear up front that a solution does not have to exit someone’s brain fully formed, and that the word “but” is banned.
JUST DO IT
Often, the client just wants what they want when they want it. A very specific brief can place limitations on creative solutions and reduce the motivation of the team to consider bold new initiatives.
This is not necessarily a problem and trying to turn every project into a blue sky unicorn fest will tire people out and potentially impact profitability. Keep in mind the risks of fixation and take some steps to identify and reduce it when possible and your organisation WILL be more innovative in 2018 and beyond.
 That’s right. Inexperience is sometimes an advantage so start inviting more Millennials to your meetings.
 Researchers study concept of design fixation; Phys.org
 Thinking inside the box; University of Cambridge Research
 10 ways to enhance creativity at work; The Guardian
 15 Ways Leaders Can Promote Creativity In The Workplace; Forbes