Of innovation and its great enemy, inertia.
We face huge problems, not least of them, writes social psychologist Mueller (Management/Univ. of San Diego), the fact that the end-of-the-world clock that ticked so loudly during the Cold War has now landed on “three minutes to midnight.” Huge problems require huge solutions, and huge solutions require creativity. But how does creativity flourish in cultures that are unused or even hostile to it? Some of our inability to leverage creativity can be linked to familiar human risk-averse behavior—and because she’s a psychologist, Mueller goes straight to Ellsberg, Tversky, and other textbook examples—and some to the odd fact that while current corporate jargon places a high value on innovation, innovation is not really what the vaunted “continuous improvement” mantra really entails. Mueller looks at models for disrupting the chain of inertia and breaking some of the barriers to good ideas. She observes that certain problem-coping methods encode different requirements for structure and offer different levels of uncertainty and risk, for good and bad; institutions particularly crave structure because it yields measurable outcomes, while softer approaches may not net immediately quantifiable results. This is puzzling given that most CEOs identify creativity as “the number-one leadership competency to win in the future.” Even so, the wheels turn slowly: one noteworthy innovation in measuring customer satisfaction took two years to run through the necessary channels, and this from the company’s chief innovation officer. Suggesting a host of mindset-altering exercises for organizations, Mueller ventures the thought that maybe metrics aren’t everything in arriving at a culture that is more conducive to creative thinking. As she notes in conclusion, “once we accept that our metrics are not themselves the answers but rather that they are the path to the answers, we are no longer limited by fear.”
Solid reading for the business set though no substitute for books by Twyla Tharp, Daniel Dennett, and other creative thinkers.