Ain’t (Innovation) Misbehaving — Review of “Outsmart Your Instincts” by Adam Hansen, Edward Harrington, and Beth Storz

Many people working to generate significant and unique value in their organizations come up hard against so many constraints: the pressures of financial or operational performance; the challenge of negotiating competing priorities; and, the everyday demands of doing more with less that keeps most enterprises “slack-free”. Each day the suit up, ready to face the challenges of battling the status quo, little realizing that perhaps some of the biggest constraints they face reside within themselves.

In the rarely explored contradiction between how we behave and how we believe we behave lies patterns of behavior — rooted in cognitive biases — that smother innovation and jeopardize organizational performance. These biases are brought into sharp relief by a fantastic new book, “Outsmart Your Instincts — How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward”, by a team from Ideas To Go, a US-based innovation consultancy, including Adam Hansen, Edward Harrington, and Beth Storz. [Note: Adam is a good friend of mine and that, regardless of his unwise association with me, he has a first-rate mind and a keen understanding of the perils of the human element of innovation.]

As someone who lives and breathes innovation and the behavior required to create an innovation-capable culture I see this book lifting the lid on the frustration that hampers so much innovation — getting beyond our own preconceived and unquestioned notions of how the world and we work. This proactive and accessible work not only helps diagnose the problem of unrealized and unquestioned biases, it explains why they occur and offers clear and actionable steps to address them.

Of great interest to me was the integration of the work of Danny Kahneman and System 1 and System 2 thinking which he details in his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” More interestingly to me as a practitioner in the field was that the authors reach beyond effective diagnosis and offers specific exercises to be done alone and with groups to help combat eight specific cognitive biases. The chapter on Confabulation alone, with its emphasis on creating an environment of “transparent observation” was immediately actionable and yielded some much deeper insights than I or my client had expected.

For many working on innovation, you may come to this book thinking you know how your mind works and there’s not much to learn. This is the whole point of the book! So often we believe that because of our deep subject matter expertise we have total command of a subject domain. The end result is that we miss the opportunities right before our eyes, or within earshot, or on the tips of our tongues, or at the end of our noses, or within arm’s reach. We over-rely on what has made us successful in the past and neglect that which could make us successful in the future.

If you want to tackle innovation, you have to think holistically. It’s not only an enterprise attention and resource game, it is a game played in the minds of those who seek to create the new and transformational. “Outsmart Your Instincts” is a great tool for making the most of out of your greatest innovation asset, your mind.