Every once in a while I get emails from business people and students asking for advice on all types of challenges they’re facing. A recent one has to do with brainstorming for innovation, specifically how to fight cognitive bias so the group can be open to all avenues of the future.
This is a very good question. It’s a very hard challenge because most everyone believes they’re open minded; but that’s not usually true when their beliefs are challenged.
A few years ago I started a “Future of…” series of online hackathons, where I brought together a group of 6 – 8 people to brainstorm and develop concepts that could be brought to life and deliver a better future. The first one we did was about the Future of Banking, and the second one was about the Future For Youth.
It was really exciting!
The people involved in both hackathons came from all walks of life, did not know each other and most had never done a brainstorm like this. The group had just one expert on the specific topic, and that expert was highly motivated to challenge the status quo; while the rest of the team consisted of people with zero knowledge about the challenge.
Some felt weird getting an invite because they felt they had no expertise in the topic. But we explained to them that the point was to limit expertise, because what you know limits what you can imagine!
In total, 3 people left the group before the first brainstorm. 1 person left after the first session because he didn’t like the process. Why did they leave? Because they felt challenged by all the weird ideas and perspectives that came about, felt their beliefs were challenged and didn’t want to feel uncomfortable.
Human nature is what limits our ability to think and act differently
We’re all biased in some way or another, and there are many biases that limit us when thinking, collaborating and brainstorming with others: loss aversion, confirmation bias, status quo bias, familiarity bias and others.
These biases contribute to our deep motivation to keep things as they are and not get uncomfortable; which doesn’t lead to transformation. And biases are always present, so we have to actively combat them to help creativity thrive.
By breaking out of our known network and bombarding our brain with new ideas, experiences and perspectives. We do this by hanging out with people who don’t think and act like we do, and who don’t work in the same domain we do.
Innovative companies and teams have diverse perspectives
Innovation has two enemies that are always present: expertise and group think. The first I alluded to at the beginning of this post, and the second one is expertise on steroids.
To put it more simple, remember the following:
- Expertise is valuable when you want to keep improving on something, not when you want to rethink it.
- Where all think alike nobody thinks very much.
To combat both enemies you need zero gravity thinkers. These are people who have zero knowledge about a specific domain, their value lies in bringing a fresh perspective to the table and zero bias; they’re not motivated to maintain the status quo.
Experts are highly motivated to maintain the status quo because they don’t want to lose what they have; and the more experts are present in a brainstorm the less they’ll challenge themselves.
This is why a great team consists of outsiders, and a few experts who are motivated to change the status quo. Radical creativity thrives when there is diversity of perspectives.
As I’ve written before, innovation needs outsiders because disruption never comes from inside an established industry; it comes from an outsider. For you the challenge is knowing how to source them, luckily I’ve done the work for you and written a post on how to do it.
There’s one key ingredient that delivers radical creativity: diversity of perspectives. So, the way to fight cognitive bias is to get the right people in the room. Specifically, people with diverse perspectives who have zero bias for maintaining the status quo.
Remember, innovation is as much about attitude and perspective as it is about process. The process won’t save you if you have the wrong people in the room.