Every year I travel around the world giving workshops and motivational talks on innovation. I enjoy doing this; I’m a naturally curious person, and there’s always something interesting to observe and learn from these speaking dates. Often I’ll walk into an auditorium full of people wondering if they will learn anything new that they can apply to their job. Sometimes the audience is comfortable and complacent. They feel they have it all figured out. However, to innovate, you need to question your assumptions.
Of course, when a company is full of people who “know best,” that’s when I can really get in there and kick-start a big change in a short period of time. Why? Because these people feel safe both within their organization and within their overall industry. This sense of safety can feel pleasant and positive. The problem is that this feeling is a by-product of certainty, and certainty can lead to dangerous assumptions.
These assumptions can be fallacies about who you are, what you do, and how you do it. They can become barriers that prevent people from asking the kinds of questions that challenge the obvious, and are necessary to continue to move your organization and your own career forward.
Question Your Assumptions
So, when I’m up there on a podium, in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of employees, the first thing I do is challenge them to see their assumptions. To really get a grasp on those old, obvious answers that their business has clung to for years. It’s only when you question your assumptions that you can let go of them and move forward on the path toward new ideas and breakthrough innovations.
Occasionally the employees who attend these kinds of workshops have already seen the change that needs to happen in their company. However when they’ve tried to address it with management they aren’t taken seriously. In some cases senior management needs to hear these ideas from an outside expert in order to accept that the concerns are valid. Now, this can be very flawed logic; after all, who knows the strengths and failings of an organization better than the people who work with (or around) them every day?
The reality is that we all seek external validation for our actions, and in these situations I’m brought in as an outsider precisely because I can validate what employees within the organization already believe. I can be blunt; what are they going to do, fire me? Other times, the role of an outsider is to discover problems that people are too busy working to think about.
I use this platform as the outsider to help companies move past the “business as usual” mentality that handcuffs them to what has worked for them in the past. The first step is to help them determine what their assumptions are—and teach them how to challenge the ones that hold them back.