Ways We Innovate: Be Incongruent

To Innovate, You Must Do Something Different. It’s Harder Than It Sounds.

Just read (actually listened to) Smarter Faster Better, the latest book by Charles Duhigg, the author of the Power Of Habit (also another great book). Great book, highly recommended. In one of the chapters, he describes an interesting experiment.

The experiment pulled together a focus group that had pretty neutral views on a topic, say, for example, eating mushrooms (not the example he used in the book). Before the test, they were questioned on the topic to confirm a lack of bias one way or the other.

They were split into two groups: one group was instructed to form a set of reasons for eating mushrooms (health benefits, full of micronutrients) and the other group was instructed to form a set of reasons against eating mushrooms (not really vegan, grown in manure). They were given time to create a compelling argument for their case.

They were each able to come up with a pretty extensive list of reasons to support their argument.

At the end of the argument creation process, they were each asked about their personal feelings on the topic. Interestingly, the group that did the pro argument now viewed mushrooms more much more favorably, and the group that did the con argument viewed mushrooms less favorably. Makes sense, right? People were asked to come up with reasons for something, and not only did they justify it for the experiment, they also convinced themselves that they were right.

In the second half of the experiment, each group was asked to do the opposite: now the pro group had to come up with reasons against eating mushrooms, and the con group had to come up with reasons for eating mushrooms. In this, the groups struggled to be able to come up with reasons, both groups were barely able to come up with a fraction of the number of reasons they did earlier.

Once your opinion is set, even in an artificial environment like this, it’s hard to change it.

When I heard this, the reasoning came to me. Most humans, except for some in the sociopath space, enjoy being congruent. That their words and deeds align. I voice my opinion on one thing, and even if I see a lot of evidence to the contrary, it’s hard for me to change my mind. We feel that it is a very bad thing to change our minds – we rake politicians over the coals for being “flip-floppers”, in some cases we take opinions so seriously, that we will defend them at great personal risk, even in the preponderance of evidence against our decisions.

We don’t like changing our minds, and we don’t like it when people change their minds too often. This is a problem when you are trying to innovate. Innovation requires doing something different – it requires changing your mind and changing your mindset. It requires being incongruent.

Unfortunately, our mind changing muscle has atrophied over time. We tend to make decisions, set directions, make plans, and slavishly stick to them, even if they are not working. This happens to everyone, from managers and employees within mid-market to major corporates, small businesses, and startups. I’m sure you’ve heard many a tale of startup founders unwilling to pivot in order to survive because they felt that their original idea was so damn good, all it needed was a little more, time, money, or audience and it would have been another billion-dollar business.

Fortunately, however, all is not lost – we can work on our mind-changing muscle, stretch it out, make it more flexible. All we need to do is to open our minds and exercise that mind-changing muscle by making ourselves do new things. For example, decide on a new restaurant for dinner. Order something else you’ve never done before on the menu. Return something you just bought.

To innovate, we must work to strengthen our incongruency mindset – that we don’t always have to do what we say or say what we do. We can, and should, change our minds, our plans, our directions when new information tells us we should. Or even on a whim, as new serendipitous juxtapositions are formed as we experience life.

So bend and flex your mind-changing muscle. Every now and then be a hypocrite. Argue against yourself. Be the devils advocate one day, and the angels advocate the other.

Keep your mind nimble, and innovate.