Creating space for new ideas needs to start with yourself.
- The problem: Resistance to change may often come from personal barriers, instead of objective facts, evidence or data.
- Why it matters: Without change there can’t be advancements, improvements, and innovations, leaving you and your team behind while others excel.
- The solution: Simple and actionable steps, applied authentically, will open you up to encourage and champion change.
Change and innovation require new ideas. Yet new ideas can struggle to get a hearing if there isn’t space for them in the climate, culture, context, and among the people involved.
Often, there is a reflexive response — “No we can’t do that”. “We tried and it didn’t work”. “They won’t like it”, “It’s too much work, we don’t have time” — before the idea has had any breathing room for worthwhile consideration.
Creating space for new ideas calls us to challenge things like:
- personal preferences
- preconceived notions
- conscious and unconscious biases
- appetite for change
- risk tolerance
- ‘what’s in it for me’ instinct
Are any of these ringing a bell with you?
These five steps will help you identify, reflect and explore what’s going on, and shift to create space more often, while you — bonus! — better understand yourself as you go.
Think of a recent workplace meeting in which ideas were invited to improve a workflow process, provide better service, or even improve how meetings are run.
1. Reflect honestly on your participation as you heard the ideas. These opposing pairs may help (I love alliteration by the way). Did you:
- Join or Judge?
- Listen or Leap?
- Ask or Assume?
- Explore or Exclude?
- Build or Block?
- Contribute or Control?
2. How often was your participation on the ‘or’ side? Which one(s)?
- Judge — did you make a snap decision
- Leap — did you leap to conclusions
- Assume — did you make assumptions
- Exclude — did you shut down the idea
- Block — did you put barriers up
- Control — did you exert control in some way …before you really had a strong understanding of the idea?
CHECKPOINT: Are you applying Negativity Bias?
The negativity bias is the phenomena by which humans give more psychological weight to bad experiences than good ones. Source: GoStrengths.com
3. Now, honestly, explore why that was happening. Did the idea challenge…
- Your personal preferences?
- Your preconceived notions?
- Your conscious and unconscious biases?
- Your appetite for change?
- Your risk tolerance?
- Your ‘What’s in it for me’ instinct?
What did you find and how do you feel about that?
CHECKPOINT: What’s going on in your brain?
Get to know the amygdala and prefrontal cortex areas of the brain and you’ll start to understand why you act a certain way when change comes along.
4. Now challenge yourself to change what you can change!
- Are you willing to work on what you found, so you can shift yourself to join, listen, ask, explore, build and contribute more and more often?
- Are you willing to collaborate with your work team to create that space in your next meeting?
- Are you willing to be a champion or sponsor to bring the idea forward?
- What does it ‘look like’ when you make these changes in your approach?
CHECKPOINT: Look at your ‘Sphere of Influence’ — what it is, and how and where it’s best applied.
5. How to do that? Here are some ideas!
- Build the meeting to let everyone’s voices be heard
- Make the meeting a workshop where the intention is idea generation
- Designate a facilitator and set ground rules for the meeting that everyone agrees to follow
- Activate non-verbal participation tools in the online meeting space like electronic whiteboards, polls, Q&A, raise hands and chat
- Employ frameworks like Liberating Structures that help guide the dialogue
- Join the meeting with an intention that sets you and everyone else up to take the idea as far as it can go
- Think ‘Yes AND…’, a time-tested improv comedy tool
- Listen to others… really listen
- Let the ideas have their moment of expression
- This is new information for your brain to process. Give it time!
- Wait for your opportunity to provide input & take a breath before you do so
- How will your input advance the conversation?
- Can you avoid using barrier words and phrases like ‘I’m worried that…’ and ‘I’m concerned that…’ (that’s your negativity bias wanting a seat in the meeting)
- Instead, acknowledge the new idea, for example, ‘Wow, that’s really ambitious’ or ‘That really is a new way of thinking’, then ask for more details or clarification so you better understand
- Repeat what you believe you heard in the form of a question — this also shows you are listening
- Explore the idea further with realistic questions that the ‘idea giver’ can realistically answer
- Contribute by being part of the next steps in the process — ‘How might we…?’, ‘What would we do next to test this?’, ‘What do you need from me to keep this going?’
FINAL CHECKPOINT: Putting all this in place will take time.
It’s a change process and it deserves the time needed for it to become a usual part of how you accept new ideas and be a sponsor, champion, objective evaluator, and even the one who’s sparking new ideas in others, not to mention yourself! — Diana Smyth
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