And this explains why innovating can be so hard for many of our colleagues.
Sheep stick together in a herd. I saw this herd this morning, and notice how close each sheep stays to each other.
They feel safer this way.
If there is ever any danger or predator around, being in a large group means not only can you see the danger earlier, you do not need to face it alone, making it more likely you will survive.
It also means that any sheep walking too far away from the group, by doing something unexpected or different, was potentially putting themselves in danger.
The same thing was true of our ancestors, when ancient humans were still the potential prey to large predators.
Thanks to evolution, we have numerous biases and heuristics programmed into our brains to try and keep us safe.
Two of the most common ones are:
- In-Group Bias: Our preference to be around people just like us and conform to the group (our herd)
- Status Quo Bias: The preference to keep things the way they are, even if a change could make things better
Unfortunately, these biases (and many others like them) which evolved over hundreds of millions of years to keep us safe, also make it much harder to innovate.
Even when we as individuals want to push our company and our colleagues to try new things, or do things differently, their desire for the status quo often means that we are pushing uphill.
It results in corporate antibodies who want to keep things the way they are, which means letting innovation efforts die even if there are passionate people behind them.
So how can we overcome these hurdles to innovation?
- We need to accept that we are not sheep: The dangers which haunted our evolutionary ancestors are no longer there. We now have the option of trying new things without risk of death
- Understand our biases: By understanding which biases make other people think like sheep, we can better understand how to address them, and overcome them better ourselves
- Show that new patches of grass are safe: Experiment quickly with low-risk innovation processes to show the rest of the herd that innovation is not as dangerous as they may think
- Do not scare the existing herd: If there are other colleagues who are not as adventurous or innovative as you, that is ok. Do not become aggressive or confrontational towards them, or they may become even more afraid of change and work even harder to prevent innovation however they can
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