Sticky Solutions

Sticky solutions to your everyday business challenges

Question: I’m beginning to notice that, because of the course that 2020 has taken so far, the managers who I work with have developed a new level of fear that could actually drive our firm out of business. The time that we should be using to brainstorm is now overrun with why we can’t or shouldn’t pivot. What can I do to help re-spark my team’s ability to innovate?


Answer: Consider this. Even before 2020 challenged everything that we had become complacent about, 70 percent of senior executives reported not having the confidence to foster innovation even though they viewed it as one of the most essential drivers of business growth. Since many leaders had not built this skill before 2020, the continuous anxiety of living in a world of “What else could possibly…”? has caused many to freeze in fear.

The further up the organization chart you go, the more likely you are to have what is known as negativity bias. This essentially means that we’re predisposed to avoid negative outcomes, even more so than we are to pursue positive ones. As a result, our minds fix on the potential negatives of every new idea.

You can push back on innovation aversion using an approach that helps people see old things in new ways:

Understand Functional Fixedness

First, not only has your firm gone through a lot this year, but each individual contributor has also dealt with (and is likely still dealing with) nonstop changes. When our entrenched habit patterns change dramatically, we can experience a disorder known as functional fixedness. We’ve temporarily lost the markers and handles that we relied on that gave us a sense of order and control. That loss can lead to feelings of being unsafe. Without psychological safety, we don’t feel that we have the capacity to be creative.

To help guide your colleagues out of the state of functional fixedness, try turning fear into fun by sharing this video. The video invites viewers to break things down into smaller parts, then using those parts to build something new to find a solution.

Next, ask each person to find a commonplace object in their environment. A paperclip, a colander, a toy – encourage them to choose quickly and not overthink their selection. Set a timer for 10 minutes and ask everyone to write a detailed description of their object, using the following prompts:

  • Describe the object as if you were an alien who is seeing it for the first time
  • How would you describe the object to someone who can’t see it, feel it, hear it, or smell it
  • Describe the object only by its shapes (square, triangle, circle, etc.)
  • Break the object down into component parts
  • Break down the components into smaller components and describe those parts

Ask everyone to share their results. Continue to facilitate these exercises. Over time, they will be ready to break down the systems and talent of the firm into smaller components that could be rebuilt to meet the new realities faced by your firm.


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