Chapter 21

Get Cracking

Everyone Is Afraid of the Unfamiliar. Here’s How to Innovate Anyway

It is natural to be suspicious of the unfamiliar. Actually, it’s entirely natural. We’re wired that way as humans; it’s a protective self-defense mechanism that makes us alert and on guard when the normal patterns of the world are suddenly abnormal. We hear a rustle behind us in the bush; adrenaline floods our system; anxiety floods our brains and we flee. Over time, we learn to discern which rustles are harmless and which ones present real harm. As historian and humanist Michael Shermer put it, “Humans are pattern seeking, story-telling animals trying to make sense of our world.” This wiring is how we’ve managed to avoid being eaten by lions, tigers, and hyenas for millennia.

But this same wiring tends to provoke anxiety about anything that’s new and unfamiliar. If in principle we are all in favor of innovation, in practice we try to make our world safe and certain. Think about your own behavior. When the weekend rolls around, you wear the clothes that are most familiar; you watch the sports teams you like; you wade through whatever is stored on your DVR to catch up on your favorite shows. This is the dominant condition you will face within your organization, too. If you want to help people to innovate more—and become better at innovating—you have to get individuals and teams to embrace rather than resist the unfamiliar.

As a leader, you need to help your organization understand that innovation ...

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