a r t i c l e s   a n d   m u s i n g s

What Does it Take to Innovate?

How do you create a culture that values innovation?

To us this is the million-euro question. How to create a culture that values innovation, a culture that supports and is even built around innovation? Since most cultures that we might want to impact already exist, we need to talk about a cultural shift or a change in culture.

When we talk about culture, we mean any group or association that has an identity. It can be you and your partner or spouse, your family, your department at work, your golf foursome, your company, your town, your country. The cultures in which you invest the most time, probably have more definition, as do the cultures that put us in situations that test us. Family culture and work culture are big ones in this regard. Then there's the concept of national culture. In general the bigger they are, the more inert they are, and the more inert, the harder they are to change.

Transforming organizational culture begins with the individual personal transformation of the organization's members. The first does not exist without the second. We believe there are no exceptions. Personal transformation begins with an 'aha.' By an 'aha' we mean the awareness of something new, some revelation about 'who we are' (our values) in relation to the 'things we do' (our behaviors). The 'aha' is the genesis for me to make a change. After this shift in awareness, this 'aha,' the next step is to actually do something differently, to change a behavior. A changed behavior that perseveres becomes a habit. A chunk of new habits, especially related habits that are supported by other members in a shared culture can then transform that culture.

If this is the goal, to transform culture in a positive way, then we just have to develop some new habits, right? True! As long as those habits are consistent with the values, beliefs or core needs, (pick your word), of the individuals who choose to make those changes. If the new habits have some consistency with each other, then the habits are more likely to stick and can serve as the buds of a cultural shift.

So let's review in reverse, our beliefs, needs and values as individuals contribute to our culture. Individuals within a culture share needs, beliefs and values. Not entirely, but any group that has a culture has some shared values and beliefs. The less an individual's values are consistent with the values of the culture, the more likely that individual is to leave that cultural environment. This culture suggests a way of doing things, or behaviors that can become habits of the individuals within that culture, coffee in the morning, a drink in the evening, email to communicate with friends, all my habitual behaviors. These behaviors, and others that are less ritualistic perhaps, make up the person, the individual, the 'me' that the world sees; my actions, what I say and what I do, the external me.

Culture/ Habits/ Behaviors. That's the pecking order for our purposes. Then along comes an 'aha.' 'Aha's' suggest changed behavior. They are lightning bolts that run through the behaviors/ habits/ culture continuum and cut right through and touch an individuals belief system and values. An 'aha' is a revelation that induces the desire to change. It is often a learning experience that provides a touchstone to core values. In essence, "Oh, I should do this differently because the new way is more me." The desired changed behavior is more consistent with my core values. So the aha is an experiential discovery of a core value, a discovery that an old behavior of mine is inconsistent with my core values, or the discovery of a new behavior that is more consistent with my core values.

The CPS process teaches us to break actions down into steps. If I set out to change my company's culture, I am likely to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and not know where to begin. It's a huge task to undertake. But if I set out to provide opportunities for my colleagues to experience 'aha's' that will suggest changed behavior that is consistent with the culture I want to create, I have an easier task to undertake.

Each step, from 'aha' to acting on new behaviors to developing habits to changing culture has stumbling blocks. The first is to create the environment where the 'aha' can happen. The second is for the individual to have the emotional courage to implement the new behavior. Just because at a given point in time, I see the light and have a desired new behavior, doesn't mean I will be successful at implementing the new behavior. The emotional courage to persevere is a necessary ingredient to a change in behavior. Any behavioral change requires a good dose of emotional courage. What I call the whiskey gulp. It's what cowboys did in the old westerns before they undertook some risky behavior like robbing a train or marching to a shootout. The whiskey gulp is a metaphor for letting go of outcomes, for moving into action, for harnessing internal fortitude, for pushing through resistance. Since action always has a reaction, a fall out, a road not taken, a potential for misinterpretation, there is risk. It takes emotional courage to start a new behavior, to take a risk that may open us up to criticism. It takes courage to take a risk.

New behaviors that are understood and supported by my environment require less emotional courage and are more likely to stick. If other members of my environment have a frame of reference, a common language with which to understand my choice of new behaviors, (and develop their own) then my community, my culture, is more likely to support my changes. There is less fallout, and less misinterpretation, thus less risk. So by laying a foundation that provides a common language for everybody, we all have a frame of reference to understand the new changes that we as individuals have chosen to make. We will then instinctively support the change that our colleagues have chosen, because we know from whence it came. It is familiar to us.

The Osborn Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process can help this transformation:

1) Osborn-Parnes suggests changed behavior. Taught in an environment that allows the participant to experience himself or herself working in a team environment, it provides the user the opportunity to discover his/her 'aha' and own desired new behaviors. Some examples of changed behaviors that have been voiced to us by Osborn-Parnes users are:

From now on, I will…

2) It invites changed behavior through experiential learning. I get to practice my new behavior and see the difference it makes and the resistance I'll have to overcome. Experiential learning is practice, and practice provides emotional courage. So the CPS process, learned experientially, helps to elevate the emotional courage of an individual who is trying out a changed behavior.

3) Osborn-Parnes provides a common language. If my colleagues have been exposed to CPS, they are more likely to understand and even support my changes, thus reducing the emotional courage I need to turn my changed behavior into a habit. And since it's a common language, it provides a frame of reference for me to understand and support my colleagues chosen changed behavior, thus minimizing the risk of those behaviors.

4) CPS provides a common language that is an innovation tool. What better common language to have than one that is by design an innovation tool? Because Cps is organic, its what we do anyway when faced with challenges, and because it's non-linear; I can use pieces of the process as I wish, CPS is an innovation tool that is adaptable to any challenge we face. So it is a common language that's an innovation tool that has a limitless number of use opportunities. Every time we use it, new 'aha's' are presented to us, and enhance our awareness of ourselves and the power of the Osborn-Parnes process.

The CPS training experience helps you to realize how you need to change, gives you a process and language to use, and most of all, helps you to summon the courage you need to think differently and act differently.

CPS gives you exactly what it takes to innovate.

©2004 by Tim Dunne and Maggie Dugan

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