Escape the 7 Traps that Hinder Innovation

March 24, 2020

Escape the 7 Traps that Hinder Innovation

You are about to experience history’s highest rate of change, disruption and opportunity. This means you are closer than ever to achieving something more. Your breakthrough might be a new product, service, role, idea or just a different way of doing something.

The problem is that your ability to change will keep getting limited by seven specific traps. Collectively, these traps reduce your innovation potential by 93 percent. These traps blind you from seeing opportunity and compel you to stick to the path you are already on. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Although we obsess about innovation, we must be mindful that making change happen is half the battle. Almost every CEO of a major company will tell you that innovation is one of their core capabilities. An astounding 97 percent, in fact. This suggests that every major company has a strong commitment, support and innovation capabilities, but our research has uncovered a different reality.

“Not everyone” puts in the effort to make it happen. Roughly half of business leaders don’t believe their company has a strong innovation plan. They don’t believe they have enough time to work on new ideas, and they generally lack the capabilities to execute those ideas. This is an enormous disconnect, but it explains why so many companies become blindsided, disrupted or less relevant than they were in the past.

Everyone wants to make innovation happen but not everyone breaks free from the path. There are several factors that cause us to stay in those grooved paths, which I call the seven traps of path dependency. Escape the traps and you will find new paths of opportunity. 

7 Traps of Path Dependency 

1. The Subtlety of Opportunity
The paradox of success is that new ideas often seem awkward at first, causing them to be overlooked. Smart people overestimate their level of control. Ironically, market leaders are at a greater risk of missing out because they overestimate their market dominance. 

Almost every tale of disruption involves smart people dismissing a subtle new idea. It can be difficult to see potential in something new. Even your biggest future fans might need time to understand your new way of doing things. 

2. Neurological Shortcuts
We learn to limit our creativity. Our creativity gets limited by learned behavior and all of the things we do to function as productive adults. Your ability to get fast and efficient creates blind spots. 

Your brain creates shortcuts to ensure you are a high-performing, quick-thinking human being. These shortcuts have a lot of upsides, but they also have incredible implications when it comes to innovation and change. Practice makes you smarter and faster, but it also makes you repetitive, consistent and dismissive. We narrow our thinking by reverting to things we’ve seen and done before. 

You have many creative ideas within your reach. If you want to realize your full potential, you need to practice creative thinking and using workshops. 

3. The Ease of Inaction
We all exhibit some level of resistance to change. The busier you become, the easier it is to stay on your path, do nothing, and miss opportunity. Start by auditing the factors in your life that inhibit action. You can’t change everything about your innate resistance to change, and you certainly are not going to change everything about your life. However, if you want change to happen, you need to internalize the extent to which certain habits and elements of structure impact your decision-making.

4. Optionality
We make fewer big decision than we think. A client once told me, “You make 10,000 decisions in your career, but just three or four of those choices account for your entire success.” Be prepared to take new paths, recognizing that only a few opportunities will truly redefine your journey. 

Even our little decisions set us on a long path. Your life is determined by a surprisingly small number of powerful decisions and we tend to make those decisions in a simplified manner. The goal is to make decisions that increase your future choices. 

5. The Traps of Success
As we master any craft, we become: 

  • LOYAL—We value and cherish loyalty to great ideas, great teams and great people. However, we also become protective of our egos, which can lead us to overly defend past decisions and the status quo.
  • CONSISTENT—Understandably, we wish to repeat decisions that led to our past success. But this also causes complacency as we lose the hunger we had searching for something to harvest.
  • DISCIPLINED—As we become experts at anything, we become fine-tuned in our thinking, to the extreme of being repetitive. We might hate that word, but fundamentally, we rely on our proven methods of doing things.

When something is new, we are: 

  • CURIOUS—The opposite of being disciplined and repetitive is being curious, which is a word we all value. At the extreme, a curious person would be perceived as distracted.
  • INSATIABLE—The opposite of being consistent and complacent is being insatiable. Insatiable means you approach any problem assuming you might be wrong, searching for new solutions to the point of becoming dissatisfied with the status quo.
  • WILLING TO DESTROY—The opposite of being loyal and protective is being willing to destroy, because you have nothing to lose. At the extreme, this leads to being reckless.

We need a balance of both. 

6. Linear Thinking
If CEOs desire innovation, and organizations lack the skillset, fix the gap and you’ll enjoy remarkable success. Companies are failing to adapt, and although CEOs say innovation is important, nobody is given the time, capabilities, or support to make innovation actually happen. 

If you want to create the future, you need to be able to predict the pace of change and convince those around you that the world is going to become very different, very fast. 

Use human progress as a proxy for accelerating change. You can then use the implied pace of change to be wiser at predicting change and more likely to convince other people that it is time for action. 

Don’t prepare for change, prepare for acceleration. 

7. Discomfort vs. Breakthrough
Breakthrough only occurs outside your comfort zone. Breakthrough, by definition, is something that’s out of your comfort zone. And people hate being outside their comfort zones. That’s why so many smart people miss out on great ideas that were always close within their grasp.

If you aspire to find a game-changing opportunity, you must push yourself past the point of comfort. 

You have so much opportunity within your grasp, but you need to be cautious of all those traps that can lock you into the path already traveled. Create the future.

Excerpted from Create the Future + The Innovation Handbook: Tactics for Disruptive Thinking by Jeremy Gutsche (Fast Company Press, March 2020).

The Authors: 

Jeremy Gutsche is a New York Times bestselling author of Create the Future + The Innovation Handbook, Better and Faster and Exploiting Chaos, and CEO of Trend Hunter.