The Huffington Post

By Judith E. Glaser and Joan Lawrence-Ross |
Published: November 16, 2013


Were We Made to Innovate?
Where does innovation live inside your organization? Is it rare, or does it thrive inside of your organization and in all relationships with employees and customers?
Neuroscience is teaching us that innovation is hardwired in our brain. Our brains are designed to grow and change, and innovation--which is thinking in new ways--is the core skill for it to thrive in organizations.

What triggers innovation and what stops it? Many workplace environments trigger fear rather than innovation. People feel they will be punished for taking risks and thinking in new ways, and they fear that stepping out, speaking up, and challenging the status quo will lead to punishment, embarrassment, and rejection. And in many workplace environments, speaking up can lead to unfortunate consequences.

When fear "owns our brains" we cannot think creatively. The part of our brain needed for thinking in new ways closes down--the prefrontal cortex or the executive brain--and the primitive brain called the reptilian brain (better known as the amygdala) masters our mind, and then? All we think about is how to protect ourselves.

How can we create environments for innovation to thrive?


Our world is changing so fast. It's unpredictable, uncertain, and at times threatens our future security. When we become stressed by an unpredictable, fast-moving financial crisis with no clear end in view, our brains become "destabilized;" uncertainty becomes a way of life. And unless we intentionally create a safe "mindspace" and "conversational space" for ideas to thrive, our greatest new thinking, and our most novel and unusual innovations will, in fact, evaporate!

Today, we're being asked to do more with less, and this "message from management" often comes with an edge of fear--"if you don't cut budgets" we'll be out of business. It's often hard for leaders to talk about cutbacks and reductions without also communicating the "feared implications of failure." Indeed, many leaders focus communicating on what to cut out or stop doing--with the emotional edge of fear....

Conversational Intelligence Neuro-tip #1: Leaders under stress tend to micro-manage, hound people to get work done, and/or set unrealistic expectations on employee delivery times, which elevates the stress in a downward cycle of productivity.

Wisdom from the world of neuroscience research reveals that people underperform when managers lead through fear and anxiety. These fear-based conversations trigger our primitive brain, and actually cause brain thinking patterns that yield more mistakes, more repetitive thinking and blocks or turns off the circuitry that links to the pre-frontal cortex, which works in concert with the neocortex (Right Brain-creative, and Left Brain-logic) to garner and harvest new innovative thinking. When we are in a state of fright, we stop thinking and start protecting.
Is it possible to eliminate fear and innovate at the same time? Is it possible to innovate to eliminate work?

All Signs Say Yes!
Making space for idea generation while you are cutting back or redesigning how work gets done is the most powerful ingredient for innovation to flourish!

Conversational Intelligence Neuro-tip #2: Innovation research has uncovered the fact that when people are provided with "constraints" to work with when doing innovative exercises, they outperform those people who are just asked to innovate. In other words, our minds can use the "constraints" as guardrails for new thinking. Those groups who were given the constraints and who "reframed the constraints" as catalysts for thinking up new ways to do things had mental breakthroughs other groups didn't.

How Can You Do It?
In your organization, think about how you structure your "innovation environments."
Pathways to Success:
➢ Step 1: Allocate Time... Step back and create mental spaces for thinking, planning and for setting realistic timeframes for accomplishing the task.
➢ Step 2: Provide Support... Remove the fear of making mistakes by reframing the task as "time to experiment and learn." Create environments for incubating ideas; give support to the process of learning. Sometimes great ideas emerge over time--the first idea is not always the best and we need to nurture our idea-generating process. When the fear of making mistakes is removed, people are more likely to be engaged.
➢ Step 3: Attribute Significance...Restructure the project so you can capture and acknowledge learning along the way. Reward experimentation; give yourself and others credit for experimenting. Organizations successful at innovating create a language for innovation that honors the journey, the testing and experimenting, and the actual investment required for idea incubating.
➢ Step 4: Use Limitations as Guardrails for New Thoughts and Ideas... Remember to allow "what if...." thinking to flood the innovation space. What if we did this, what if we did that... how could we do more of this... or less of this...? Entertain new ways of doing things and entertain even the craziest ideas as they emerge along the way.
This four-step process will translate into creating time for the space for innovation to emerge, even in the face of constraints.

Ask Yourself ...

➢ What are you doing to inspire innovation in your organization?
➢ What changes can you make to your workplace to inspire greater levels of innovation?
➢ How can you remove the "fear triggers" and enable more experimentation to take place?

Joan Lawrence-Ross is the Chief Learning Officer at AIG.

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is the author of 7 books including her new best selling book - Conversational Intelligence; How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion)
To learn more, visit:; //This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_hplink">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Follow Judith E. Glaser on Twitter:

Keep up-to-date with The CreatingWE Institute and Conversational Intelligence® via our email newsletter