Here’s Why Emotions Are The Secret Sauce Of Innovation

26 January, 2017 / Articles
Smart cities

Many business leaders tell me that one of their top priorities is increasing the quality and speed of their organizational innovation. Faster and better is now being applied to innovation just as it has been applied for decades to operational excellence. This need is being driven by faster paces of change, more complexity, connectivity, transparency, reduced barriers to entry and by exponentially advancing technology.

Artificial intelligence systems, deep learning, smart robots, the Internet of Things, nanotechnology, virtual and augmented reality will transform every business function. Operational excellence will be technology-based and, in many industries, commoditized. That would leave innovation as the key strategic value creation differentiator.

When I ask those business leaders what they’re doing to create more and better innovation, they usually answer in two ways: they are hiring better people and/or they are putting in place better processes. When I ask them what they’re doing to emotionally enable more innovation in their organizations, they usually look at me like I’m crazy or respond “what do you mean?”

Innovation is Emotional

Innovation is not just a cognitive process. It’s emotional. It requires doing something new or novel, and that can be scary because it requires the courage to enter the unknown and it involves learning from experimental failures. Many of us learned as children that success comes from making the fewest mistakes. We learned to avoid making mistakes and looking stupid. We also developed emotional defensives to protect our views of ourselves – to protect our ego. Protecting our ego and fear are the two big emotional inhibitors of innovation.

How do we begin to see new things that others don’t see? As importantly, how do we perceive reality more accurately – see what we do not usually see? How do we have the courage to explore the unknown? How do we create something new? We have to overcome our fears of failure in order to iteratively learn. We have to overcome our self-centered views of the world so we can perceive the world as it is not as we believe it is. We must be more open-minded and less emotionally defensive when our views are challenged by others or by new facts. We must reflectively listen in a nonjudgmental manner. And to do all of that, we absolutely have to manage our emotions and be emotionally intelligent about our and others’ emotions since innovation is a team sport.

Leading research by cognitive, social, and positive psychologists including Barbara Fredrickson and Alice Isen has produced strong evidence that positive emotions enable and enhance cognitive processing, innovative thinking, creativity and lead to better judgments and decision making. Research has also shown that negative emotions—especially fear and anxiety—have the opposite effect. Fears and anxiety in the workplace can take many forms, including fears of looking bad, speaking up, making mistakes, losing your job, or not being liked. All of us are insecure and fearful to a certain extent and in certain situations. We want to be liked. We want to be accepted by the team. We want to fit in.

Organizations must confront these emotional enablers and inhibitors through leadership role modeling, culture, human development and by implementing research-based processes that individuals can use to manage their ego and emotions. Organizations must design their work environments to reduce fears, insecurities, and other negative emotions. One important component is to create an environment of Psychology Safety.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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