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Strategic Planning and Management Insights

Change Your Thinking on Risk Taking and Innovation,  Part II

[fa icon="calendar"] October 23 / by Lynn Oucharek

I once watched two little league baseball teams in a final game go head to head. On 

one side was the top ranked team, on the other the underdog who were second to last in the
standings. The top ranked team’s coach was intense, angry and wasn’t afraid to let
his team know that they were not performing to their maximum potential.

The opposition coaches were solid friendly guys with a great attitude toward winning: “do
your best and the rest will sort itself out”.

What tends to happen over time is that trusting, connected groups eventually find their groove and outperform those just working on raw talent. 


Because of this, the underdogs stretch out further and use their collective talents and energy to do what everyone said couldn’t be done.

In this case, the underdog went on to win not only that game, but also win the series by a landslide. 

Baseball aside, most people are not thinking of innovation in terms of setting the stage
for great collaborative teams as key to the process.

The importance of developing safe, nonjudgemental landscapes in order for
people to put themselves and their ideas out there is critical for everyone to experience
in order to have the collective knowledge to build upon.

The ability to take risks and be vulnerable with an individual’s ideas/actions is directly
linked to getting out of one’s comfort zone or what I call the “Bunny Slippers”. 

Author Daniel Coyle explains it well by likening the feelings surrounding risk taking to being on a continuum. The comfort zone is on one end, not having to work too hard to achieve success, the sweet spot is in the middle, getting uncomfortable and stretching out further with hard work, and the far end as possibly moving out too far into the survival zone, thrashing around like you’re treading water but not actually accomplishing anything.

It’s important to name the process so we know as individuals and teams if we’re taking appropriate amounts of risk in order achieve both bigger ideas and the outcomes we most want to achieve. Feeling uncomfortable, the sweet spot, is one sign that you’re in exactly the right place for new ideas and actions to take place. Chances are if you’re not feeling this you’re probably not far enough out of the slippers.

Underlying all of this is society’s, and many organization’s big issues with failure. Most
of us would rather sit still than look like we’re failing, or take a risk of being judged by
our peers.

The challenge with this is that no great ideas were ever developed without
experimenting, failing and trying again. To paraphrase Edison on his teams
development:  “We didn’t fail to find electricity we just found 10,000 ways not to make a
light bulb.” The question is how are you going to create an opening for failure and
learning to happen in order to grow the ideas and collaborations you most want?

We are all born with the curiosity, wonder and ability to experiment that makes us great
innovators; or what IDEO founder Tom Kelley calls creative confidence, the belief that
we’re capable of developing big ideas and solutions.

The challenge is that for many of us we lose these skills/beliefs over time, but are now being asked to come to the table with them in spades. This means rebuilding the muscles which govern risk taking and idea development through creating a practice of small risks and experiments along the

This is learning again to push out a little further each time, past the fear and build
confidence in the fact that you’ve become a little more skilled in an area, not losing the
fear, but as astronaut Major Chris Hadfield says: starting to over ride the fear with
reason and experience.

Most organizations still believe throwing a few smart managers together in a room
should create new solutions to the challenges they’re facing. The truth is the only real
way to ensure people stretch far enough to ignite outstanding connections/ideas
between them requires support and tools, including Design Thinking Skills, which
assists them in considering different perspectives.

Utilizing the strengths and “superpowers” of team members along with insights of clients
allows for a human centred model of idea development and design thinking which
produces truly innovative solutions.

Below are a few things you can continue to work on in order to develop those muscles
for yourself and your teams:

1. The power of what author: Warren Berger calls "More Beautiful Questions" or ones
beyond "who, what, where and why ", provide an invitation for yourself and others
to inquire and contribute further cannot be underestimated.

Questions like "How Might We", classically used by IDEO, Google and other great organizations provide an outstanding starting point for new thinking.

2. Design thinking tools and skill sets such as prototyping helps us take our actions and
experiments to another level. It’s requires us to let go of fancy finished examples and
go back to a time when building lego and drawing on the back of a napkin allowed
you to create without worry of something being permanent.

It’s where we can experience the first beta of an idea and then gather feedback early on in order to
create stronger versions down the road.

3. How does your organization currently view failure, success and the ability to create a
path back when things don’t go as planned?

How do you celebrate small successes along the way? Both are important yet opposite sides of the same coin in supporting a fertile environment for innovation.


Considering an update to your strategic plan? 
Our starter kit has everything you need for each step of the process: 


Topics: Leadership, Innovation

Lynn Oucharek

Written by Lynn Oucharek

Lynn Oucharek is the Founder of O Vision Consulting.  Her focus is on People, Change and Innovation and she's constantly looking for new ways to help people and organizations take more risks with their ideas and actions. She is especially fond of engaging students in community innovation projects and spends her spare time making wine and more recently honing her Katniss like archery skills.

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