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The Psychological fact of Innovative thinking

A colleague recently asked me for some insight on the psychology behind innovative thinking.

He wanted to know things like:

What works better for innovative thinking—individuals working on their own, or within groups?
What character traits make for a great innovation team?
How does risk-aversion and negative thinking play into an organization’s ability to be innovative?
Here are four insights about the psychology of innovation that I’ve learned over 20 years of reading, research, and working with organizations.

1.  We all think/innovate differently.

Let’s say you and a colleague are assigned with coming up with an idea to save the organization money.

Your approach may be more analytical—that is, you first want to do some fact-finding before you start brainstorming. However, your colleague prefers to get started right away, taking less of a “bibliography approach” and looking instead at what the two of you already collectively know. 

What does this mean where innovation is concerned? We think differently, therefore we approach innovative thinking differently. And that’s okay. In this case, there would be advantages to doing both—it does not need to be either/or.

2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Particularly for innovation practitioners and entrepreneurs, it’s critical to be very much at ease with uncertainty. Being innovative often means stepping over the border into unchartered and unclear territory.

However, a large chunk of the population is uncomfortable with the ambiguity involved in being innovative.

This is why we at Juice created an innovation training program—Innovation in a Box—that provides structure to the innovation process. It gives people a bit more guidance and helps explore any concerns without negatively affecting their ability to think innovatively.

3. Innovation requires mindfulness.

Mindfulness is my word for the year. But what is it, really?

Psychology Today defines mindfulness as “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad....[Mindfulness means] awakening to experience.”

Basically, all the innovation processes and tools in the world will not work if we are constantly second-guessing ourselves and others.

4. To be truly innovative, we must play well with others.

If you’re trying to build your own innovation dream team, you want to look for people with T-shaped skills.

These people have experience or deep knowledge in a particular discipline (representing the vertical bar on the T) as well as an ability to collaborate (representing the horizontal bar of the T).

In other words, innovation team members must be knowledgeable, as well as comfortable with each other.

Each individual should have similar character traits including trustworthiness as well as an ability to trust; they are equally open-minded; and they have passion for the task at hand.


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