Be a prepared mind for innovation: managing bias and assumption

angry-woman-arms-crossed-shutterstockWhat’s up with bias and assumption?

Indulge me a moment, please. I’m asking you to do a little physical exercise.  You don’t have to move much – just fold your arms the way you usually do.  Then, fold them the other way. Then ask yourself, how did that feel?  People who have never done this little exercise excursion typically say that it feels awkward. And the reason that it feels awkward is that the way you fold your arms has become a habit formed since your earliest years.  And, now you’re not even aware of the way you do it.

That’s the same with your biases and assumptions.  You don’t notice them because they have become habits of mind.   Habits of mind can also be thought of as informed intuition that is the product of our acculturation from birth.  It’s accumulated over time in all the contexts in which we find ourselves and from all that we experience in our family, education, leisure and work lives.

Focusing on our professional lives biases and assumptions are formed from our education, our mentors, professional associations and the various work cultures we’ve experienced. Our informed intuition is also honed by our personality and personal experiences.  There is nothing wrong with our informed intuition or acting on our acquired biases and assumptions.  It’s what we ‘know’ and what keeps us safe and earns us a reputation as an effective colleague.  BUT, when embarking on an innovation project, it is essential to acknowledge and therefore be able to manage our personal and professional biases and assumptions because that’s what we’ve got to get beyond to see new possibilities that at first may seem absurd.  Didn’t Einstein say, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

Ways to manage personal and professional bias and assumption in our work.

The first step in acknowledging our personal biases and assumptions is self-reflection.   Use this worksheet to find an easy exercise to stimulate self-reflection.   At the end of it, write down 3 – 5 biases that may need to be managed given the innovation project you are embarking upon.

The next step is to acknowledge the biases and assumptions in our work culture.  Use this worksheet to access an exercise to stimulate reflection on your workplace culture.  When you have done as much of it as you think useful, then write down 3 – 5 workplace biases and assumptions that you will need to manage for your innovation project.

If you are working alone to prepare your mind for innovation, then, reflect on personal and corporate biases and assumptions you have written down and develop a strategy for managing them.

If you are working as part of an innovation team find an independent, third party facilitator, who can lead the team through a debriefing exercise.  This debriefing exercise is in two parts:  firstly allowing each team member to articulate a personal bias or assumption he or she will have to manage.   Then, the facilitator would ask each team member to articulate a corporate bias or assumption.  The purpose of this is to surface attitudes and barriers that can be managed once acknowledged.

What’s the pay-off?

Innovation requires new ways of seeing and acting.  We need prepared minds to facilitate that and a key process for that is to recognize and acknowledge our personal and our work place biases and assumptions so that we can manage them.   With such prepared minds, we can help to overcome barriers to innovation.

       Infamous examples of biases and assumptions that destroy innovation and ensure stagnation

We’ve never done it that way

We’re not ready for that yet

We’re doing alright without it

We tried it once and it didn’t work

It costs too much

That’s not my responsibility

It won’t work

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