The greatest enemy of innovation is ourselves

reading this article begins to imagine who might be speaking to them. Almost automatically, one will construct a mental idea based on a set of past experiences. Numerous studies confirm that 95% of our cognitive activities, such as the way we behave and our emotions, are unconscious and affect our understanding of things on a daily basis. These biases are part of our human nature and appear as a key element in strategic design.

As a designer, I had to study the notion of perspective in different circumstances.
Understood by the Royal Spanish Academy as “Panorama that from a certain point is presented to the viewer’s eye (…)”, perspective tells us about the observation of something in a space, from the point of view of an observer. Let’s suppose that we are several people observing a building, each one positioned at a different angle. We can all argue that our view of it is the most accurate, however what each of these observers does not see does not mean that it does not exist. When we look at the world from our own point of view, we forget that what we observe is so with respect to ourselves. Trying to deconstruct perspective is crucial when it comes to innovation.

When I was enrolled in the School of Architecture, Design and Urbanism of the University of Buenos Aires, one of my favorite subjects was “Pensamiento Proyectual”. In this subject we were graded on the level of observation that we were able to achieve. Over the course of a year I had to record what I observed through a camera, analyze different environments, and then conceptualize based on what I observed. That practice, which may seem boring to many, had a very clear purpose: anyone who wanted to become a designer had to break with preconceived ideas and learn to look at the world with new eyes. Without judging. Throwing ourselves like explorers to discover and see “what happens”. Practicing this taught me to understand that our reality hides things that we do not see. And even though I still find it hard every day, I value these kinds of exercises which helped me to train critical thinking.

The main problem that most companies have is related to their static perception, which deprives them from bringing innovative products and services to the market. They find it difficult to move away from “business as usual” because they have solved problems with the same procedures for decades. In general, companies look to strategic design as an ally for being “disruptive”, “innovate” or because they want to remain relevant in face of the competition. The truth is that just a few have really thought about it as a transformation process. Innovation cannot be understood as something isolated but as an integral adaptation of the environment, the company’s practices and the way teams operate. This not only involves bringing a fresh look to the company but mainly starting a journey of discomfort. Innovation implies analyzing the organization’s DNA from all possible points of view. And this clearly implies taking risks and being comfortable with losing control over the result you are trying to achieve.

Observation should be the most important skill of a designer, especially for the strategic ones. We use it when facing a problem, meeting people, when we conceptualize, when we iterate and mainly when we are in front of similar challenges. We must always analyze problems with fresh eyes. This process, which is far from being easy, is precisely what allows the solutions we land on to be richer as it has been observed from different perspectives. However, observation could not be carried out in a successful way if the context and observers are not the right ones.

As with perspective, innovation is also dominated by cognitive biases. In the past, I metpl enty of stakeholders that constantly find ways to support their traditional way of thinking although they seek to innovate from the bottom of their hearts. This way, companies that set an environment for learning and improvisation are helping employees to change their own perspective. Integrating design methodologies in a company implies being open to change basically yourself.

As important as placing the right environment is setting the adequate guidance. How does the building look from the perspective of a sixty year old man? And from a six year old kid?.
A company that seeks to think differently can hardly achieve this if its teams come from similar disciplines, industries and experiences. Instead, multidisciplinary teams are the breeding ground for any kind of innovation. Management writer Edward de Bono proposes an exercise to conceive and refine ideas called “Six Thinking Hats”. De Bono’s method not only induces collaborative work but also allows to contemplate different aspects – emotional, positive, negative and creative among others – of a problem. This type of framework challenges the thinking of multidisciplinary teams by taking into account different perspectives in the resolution of a problem. By collaborating with different “observers” from inside and outside of the company, the cognitive skills of teams can be challenged.

When well thought out, these three components – learning to observe, providing the right space and incorporating new observers – can allow any company to adapt quickly to the changes that markets demand. Those that have incorporated methodologies inherent todesign have begun to understand that it is no longer sustainable to look for evidence that confirms what they already know, but that it is necessary to go out in search of insights that provide new information to offer solutions that people value. As long as we continue to be guided by our natural intuition, as opposed to reflection and awareness of our biases, it will be very difficult to make room for discovery. On the other hand, if we open our eyes to more possibilities we may at least have the opportunity to discover more valuable horizons.

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