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Do Your Decisions Help or Hinder Innovation?

By Ed Bernacki |

Everyone in every organization makes decisions every day. Have you ever considered how your decisions impact, enhance or hinder innovation?

It is worth repeating what Sir Geoffrey Palmer said in response to the question: How do you know a good idea when you see it? He said "…analysis and thought are critical to the recognition of a good idea, but they are not enough...Good ideas often come from instinctive flashes of insight...when you have a good idea, you know it with conviction, even if other people do not recognize it."

The power of conviction is obvious. Conviction in one's decision creates a vision, which drives us to achieve challenges in all aspects of our lives. Conviction empowers us to search for options to achieve the vision and then make the decisions necessary to make it happen.

But why are many decisions in business so obviously weak and ineffective? It is useful to look at the research on organizational decision making, and Bernard Bass is one of the best on this topic. Several of his observations are insightful, and make it worth evaluating your own decisions. How many do you recognize?

  • In general, organizational decision-makers are slower to react to opportunities than the alarm bells of problems.
  • Pay more attention to superiors than to subordinates;
  • They often pick the first alternative that minimally meets the standards of acceptability. The term for this is "satisfying"; a decision that ignores the ideal option and reflects a compromise.
  • Make decisions that tend to support each other within the organization.

The last observation is telling. People watch each other's decisions. Bass found that we have a tendency to focus on problems, pay attention to the boss, take the easy route, and fall in line with the status quo. This hardly supports innovative thinking.

Bass' work is supported by many studies in numerous industries. He provides a strong case to observe decision making in our businesses.

Contributing to the complexity of decision making is the perception that creativity takes time. People say, "I'm too busy to be creative." What people are actually saying is that they are too busy to think through their decisions. They are too busy to consider enhancements, improvements, or ways in which value can be added.

It is critical to tackle this issue and redefine creativity in the context of decision making. It is broadening your perspectives on the decisions that you need to make every day. You can broaden your perspectives in two ways:

  1. You can look for more options to find a better solution.
  2. You can use one of the many creativity tools to take a much more sophisticated look at the possible options.

Of course, this happens before you make your decision. True creativity gets built with your decision rather than added on afterwards. The irony is that time invested in expanding your options and enhancing often pays off at the bottom line. The best way to become a truly creative person is to look at how you make decisions. Use Bass' framework:

  • Do you focus only on problems?
  • Do you only pay attention to those above you?
  • Do you take the easiest solution?
  • Do you fall in line with the status quo?

Once you recognize these traits in your decision making, you then graduate to a level that supports innovation by creating your own rules for decision making:

  • I will create a sense of urgency to solve problems balanced by equal urgency to create opportunities.
  • I will pay attention to those above and those below me in the organization.
  • I will expand my search for options to include what is expected and consider what is possible.
  • I will step out of line with people if I feel that it is the right thing to do.

To meet the challenge of these goals means that you need to be open to the possibilities around you. When you do so, you greatly improve your odds of making decisions that find or support great ideas.

Practice the discipline of writing down the decisions you are about to make. Recognize if you are continuing the status quo. Ask, "why do I want to continue the status quo?" Drop any previous assumptions for a moment. Understand why you did or did not pursue other options. Lastly, put something of yourself into the options that will impact on your decision. What are your unique skills and talents that can make this decision great? Put your heart and passion into the idea.

As Sir Geoffrey Palmer said, "when you have a good idea, you know it with conviction." Only then will you create the energy and momentum necessary to bring your ideas to life.

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