The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed a host of difficult realities to the surface. Not the least of these is the universal understanding that none of us know what is to come of this crisis, or how exactly we should prepare for the future.
We are each embarking into uncharted territory and as a result, share the universal commonality of a beginner’s mindset. Unnerving? It shouldn’t be! For in these moments where we are equal players on the field, setting aside our biases and expertise and solving problems with fresh and unfamiliar eyes, is when innovation truly comes to life.
Let’s look at it this way: Yes we are each experts in our own domains and fields, and we should be proud of this fact. But when it comes to innovation, or the development of something dynamic and unprecedented, being an expert does not always bode well for our cause.
Expert bias, or the entrenched beliefs that someone knows what works and doesn’t work in their own industry, has a tendency to stall innovation. As stated in an article published by Entrepreneur.com, “while being an ‘expert’ is an enormous asset in starting and growing a business, staying an expert requires a constant and ongoing search for even better solutions, ideas and customer pain points outside of the individual entrepreneur's realm of expertise.”
This is why it is crucial for innovators to occasionally set aside their industry smarts and to ‘think like beginners’. Human-centered thinking prioritizes this notion, teaching us to frame solutions around the end-user (who in this context is our ‘expert’) and to embrace a learning mindset in order to guide unique, delightful and effectively valuable ideas.
Here are a few ways to begin incorporating a beginner’s mindset into your innovation ventures:
Invite new eyes into your organization
For those who have dedicated a great portion of their lives to becoming experts in their field, bias in the face of innovation can be especially difficult to overcome. As such, there can be great benefits to inviting outsiders into the folds of an organization and requesting some of their unencumbered feedback relating to the challenges that are being faced.
A wonderful example of this very practice comes from Cincinnati, in the form of a very dynamic group of advisors named Innovation Girls. Innovation Girls, as an initiative, deploys a team of girls between 10 and 15 years of age to advise largescale corporations and organizations — such as banks, academic institutions and retail companies — and to provide insights to them regarding the real and complex issues they are facing.
As the organization’s website states, “Adults tend to focus on obstacles while the unbounded minds of young girls focus on what is possible.” In accepting an entirely new generation into their innovation processes, the organizations that hire Innovation Girls and similar teams allow new eyes to gaze at their products, deliveries and methods, actively fighting expert bias and opening up a new realm of dynamic possibility.
Encourage innovation at all levels of your organization
Organizations in which innovation teams are made up of subject-matter experts exclusively, are the ones that will be left behind in the race to produce unique and delightful services in competitive markets. This is why leaders must strive to foster welcoming environments that create opportunities for everyone to be heard, supported and celebrated when their idea succeeds.
In the same way that human-centered design implores us to listen, ask questions and learn from a range of users — including our extreme ones — everyone’s opinion must be accounted for and heard to overcome expert bias in innovation.
The event of COVID-19 has afforded many the opportunity to reevaluate our preexisting processes and rhythms. As we endeavor to take stock of what worked then and what works now, it is important for leaders to also assess whether the structure of the companies allows for every member of the organization to be directly and sincerely involved in innovation, and if not, to evaluate whether this hierarchy of expertise is stagnating possibility and success.
Prioritize playfulness in work
The fundamentals of human-centered design decree that the greatest ideas are generated when everyone involved in innovation feels uninhibited and supported. Bogged down by many years of involvement in an industry, we can fall victim to taking ourselves too seriously, forgetting that disruptive and delightful ideas are given the chance to grow and prosper in open environments This is where harnessing a sense of play can come in handy.
Prioritizing playfulness in work does not mean throwing caution is thrown to the wind and replacing it with chaos. It means incorporating exercises and processes into your existing rhythms of innovation that encourage free-flowing thought. This could mean hosting the occasional virtual improv session, asking brainstorming questions that encourage wild ideas or simply positioning certain professional exercises as games, including such elements as prizes and silly team names.
As elemental as these activities may seem, they discourage expert bias by leveling the professional playing field, reminding each team member that they are collaborating towards common goals while also igniting dynamic, joy-filled and out-of-the-box ideas.