Author Archives: Rachel Audige

About Rachel Audige

Rachel Audigé operates at the intersection of marketing, innovation and people. She is a certified facilitator and trainer in Systematic Inventive Thinking, based in Australia. She is passionate about  how cognitive bias gets in the way of inventive thinking. In 2020, she published 'UNBLINKERED: The quirky biases that get in the way of creative thinking...and how to bust them.' Available at www.rachelaudige.com

The Downside of Likemindedness

The Downside of Likemindedness

GUEST POST from Rachel Audige

You know that extra buzz of care you feel for people like you? That might be you caught up in like-mindedness bias. We have a tendency to seek out people like us and ideas like our own. That may be just fine but let’s not kid ourselves that it fosters new thinking!

It’s hard not to enjoy kindred spirits. There is something very comforting about spending time with people who share similar values and desires, but I tire of meetings and work situations where people speak of the pleasure of being with folk like them:

“It is so good to be amongst like-minded people,” I heard in a local business meeting that I attend to be challenged.

“An event for the like-minded,” is supposed to attract us to an innovation event.

“Feeling like meeting like-minded women over lunch?” says an invitation I receive in my inbox.

We welcome people, but the sub-text is that they need to ‘be like us’. “There is nothing wrong with you as long as you look like, think like, act like, lead like, advance like, decide like, keep time like, create like, socialize like and consume like us,” writes Nancy Kline in More Time To Think.

It is a bias at large in the workplace and, indeed, in most other places. We just seem to want to self-replicate.

More pervasively, even social media algorithms nourish this thinking and feedback to us only the ideas and world views that we have ‘liked’. The result is that our own narrow views are played back to us in a mind-narrowing echo chamber. This is not an innovative ecosystem, it’s more like an echo- system where our own thoughts and ideas are reflected back at us.

This is not an innovative ecosystem, it’s more like an echo- system where our own thoughts and ideas are reflected back at us.

I believe this obsession with like-mindedness stems from a range of factors including:

▶ A fear of being different. Our desire to fit in and belong is usually greater than our willingness to stand out.

▶ A false idea of mateship that tells us we can only be ‘mates’ if we get on. We see this a lot in countries like Australia and New Zealand.

▶ Avoidance of conflict. In organizations where we are not encouraged to challenge the leadership or each other, some will choose to behave as though they agree to avoid any negative consequences.

▶ Fear of rejection. This is the people-pleasing side where people show agreement whether they agree or not.

▶ Need for Approval. This is very apparent in many large corporations and can lead to a passive/defensive culture in an organization. It may be amplified by the fact that for many the HiPPO (the bias where we defer to the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) is offshore and there is a sense that we need to walk the corporate line.

▶ And lastly, what Nancy Kline would see as an untrue limiting assumption, that someone else’s divergent thinking ‘does not count’; a sense that we are—or our thinking is—superior.

“When we all think alike, there is little danger of innovation” — Edward Abbey

I don’t believe that like-mindedness is conducive to innovative thinking or the best decision making. I have sat on a board where the CEO and Chair were so close they did not call each other out on important matters. I have also been in a team where the Head of Sales and Head of Marketing were being told they should agree of things when I was convinced that each of them was likely to be more effective if they represented their divergent take on the customer, strategy and long-term versus short-term priorities.

A CREATIVE CULL

The like-mindedness bias not only impoverishes thinking but excludes those who are ‘un-like’ us in a variety of ways. Some expressions of this like-mindedness bias and its consequences that I have witnessed with regards to creative thinking are:

▶ Groups that place too much value on similarity and getting on. As a result, they are less likely to bring divergent thinking into the room. They may then consciously — or unthinkingly — not invite those who we believe are not ‘like them’. I have seen this lead to ideas that are less rich and less inclusive of a diverse range of views where I had to speak up for the absent (needless to say, I also had blinkers and would have left people out).

▶ Countless idea generation sessions where we have not consciously asked the question: who does this idea exclude? We tend to be very good at looking for benefits and challenges but many workshops have fallen into the trap of the mythical notion of ‘one size fits all’. This could exclude any number of people.

▶ I recall a meeting where a panel was seeking creative ideas around addressing the disproportionately low number of women positions of power in Australian businesses. Incredibly, only two men were in a room of over 100 women. This was unlikely to bring the most creative ideas or engage those that needed to be part of the conversation.

▶ Conversely, I have run a roundtable explicitly for people living with disability and upset a person who was hard of hearing and was seated at the back of the room, unable to lipread. Albeit unintentional, we need to watch out for ‘micro-aggressors’; those (seemingly) little things that remind people that the world wasn’t built for them. We talk a lot about ‘scalability’ in innovation. But how can we see something as truly scalable if we are leaving out about 15% of the population?

Most of us have been in a meeting — creative or otherwise — where the unwritten rule involves sacrificing more challenging, disruptive ideas for consensus and groupthink. In a creative session, if my goal is to get on with another person, I am unlikely to improve on their ideas. I am also unlikely to contradict them. This leads to a lowest common denominator effect whereby we settle on what is agreeable to all.

If we are not pushing each other for better, we are likely to stop at safe, possibly ‘vanilla’ concepts. This erodes our creative edge and our point of difference. Nancy Kline clearly sees the danger: “We worship at the altar of homogeneity. Actually, we sacrifice there… Homogeneity sounds so nice. Same, comfortable, familiar, predictable. But it is ruthless. And it infects even our conception of how to slay it.”

The most helpful way of exploring the many negatives of the like-mindedness bias and its impact on innovation is to highlight the value of its opposite…

DIVERSITY | DIVERGENT THINKING | INCLUSION and UNIVERSAL DESIGN

One of the most powerful measures to keep most biases in check is to invite diversity, divergent thinking and actively foster inclusion.

Mid-Covid-19 discussions in Australia, I was delighted to hear Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy’s response to a question about whether he agreed with the different stakeholders involved in making wellbeing decisions. He replied that it was preferable for them not to agree and that their decisions would be better for it.

Diversity is manifesting an understanding that each individual is unique and recognising individual differences. These differences may be in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies. As Kline states: “The mind works best in the presence of reality. Reality is Diverse.”

‘Diversity’ has been part of the business vernacular for years now. Diversity is the mix. What matters is how we make this mix work once we combine different backgrounds, vocabularies, paradigms and processes. That’s inclusion. Not getting this right can whitewash creativity and, potentially, undermine the inclusiveness of any creative output.

Dr Jennifer Whelan, founder of Psynapse, offers a simple illustration of why diversity is preferable. Whelan describes two rooms. In the first room, you see people just like you; people who share the same language, skin colour, gender and even background. You can relax, these are ‘your kind of people’. You can build rapport, make assumptions, enjoy high levels of certainty. It feels efficient.

But there are risks to this, warns Whelan: “Too much agreement means we don’t consider alternative solutions, or discuss a broader range of ideas. We are at risk of groupthink and biases because we don’t have a fresh set of eyes on how we’re thinking. We don’t feel challenged so we go with the easier option and stick with tried and tested solutions. While some of the routine things we do at work might not suffer, when it comes to some of the more challenging things, this room acts as an echo chamber.”

In the second, you open the door to a room full of people who are both different to you and to each other. In this room, you’ll have to bring your A-game. You’ll need to listen more attentively and be better prepared.

“This second room doesn’t feel as comfortable as the first room. You have to work a lot harder and the outcome might not be as predictable,” says Whelan. However, this room has many potential upsides. This is likely to be a space which is more conducive to creativity. A place where more varied ideas are aired, less shortcuts are made and people are more likely to notice what might otherwise be overlooked.

Room one is more comfortable but it is less well equipped for creative thinking and is more prone to biases, errors and assumptions.

“Getting more comfortable in room two, the diverse room, is the goal of inclusion and, without inclusion, room two can risk higher levels of conflict. Different perspectives and ideas aren’t explored without an open, curious mind, so the team’s diversity can go to waste,” says Whelan.

So, what can we do to counter the like-mindedness bias to disinvest in sameness and think more inclusively and creatively and ‘make the mix work’ in our innovation?

My experience of corporate innovation workshops and idea generation sessions is that we focus on desirability, feasibility and viability but forget to ask the question: Who am I excluding?

It strikes me that we need to overlay—or better, underpin— all our creative thinking and work on new product and service design, process enhancement by this consideration and constantly strive to iron out the kinks to make whatever we are creating as inclusive as possible.

We also need to include universal design principles in our idea generation criteria: is it equitable? Flexible? Simple and intuitive? Is information perceptible? Is there a tolerance for error? Does it require low physical effort? Is the size and space adequate for approach and use? Who might this idea exclude? If we want to dial up our creative outputs, we need more divergent inputs. We need to actively seek out or create places where we will encounter different-minded people; divergent thinking and diverse group identities.

As Brené Brown says: “Daring leaders fight for the inclusion of all people, opinions and perspectives because that makes us all better and stronger.

“That means having the courage to acknowledge our own privilege and staying open to learning about our biases and blind spots.”

NOTHING KEEPS BIAS IN CHECK LIKE INCLUSIVE DIVERSITY

Whatever we are creating, we shouldn’t be considering difference after the fact. Literally — and metaphorically — we need to come up with ideas, systems, processes, designs, websites, buildings…where each and every person can enter through the front door.

I work on a simple premise that innovation should be geared towards making our lives better. When this view is shared, diversity really needs to be front and centre of any initiative. Online and off, we need to follow the thinking of the likes of Todd Rose, co- founder and president of non-profit Project Variability, who challenges the ‘myth of the average’ and recommends that we ‘design to the edges’ and optimise our processes, structures, systems, products and communication for the full range of human characteristics, traits, abilities and interests.

I have always found that my ideas can be improved and sharpened by people who think differently. As long as I listen to those voices with respect and interest — and genuinely contemplate the ideas of others.

I am convinced that we think better and are more likely to look at things from more angles with different perspectives in the room. This is why the best idea generation happens with multidisciplinary, cross-functional, cross-ability groups.

I’m not scared of a ‘clashing’ of ideas and debate. It keeps me sharp and it keeps me grounded. It keeps complacency at bay. It leads to more meaningful outcomes. I am conscious that my comfort with conflict may be another person’s discomfort.

Even when I’m overly partial to an idea, I try to think inclusively and not defensively, I try to make a point of inviting diverse voices to pipe up. Being challenged is a necessary part of the creative process. We need to embrace the discomfort.

Whatever we are creating, we shouldn’t be considering difference after the fact. Literally — and metaphorically — we need to come up with ideas, systems, processes, designs, websites, buildings… where each and every person can enter through the front door.

If you are interested in overcoming biases to enhance your innovation effectiveness, check out: “UNBLINKERED: The quirky biases that get in the way of creative thinking…and how to bust them” at www.rachelaudige.com

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The Fail Fast Fallacy

The Fail Fast Fallacy

GUEST POST from Rachel Audige

The Fail Fast Fallacy is that while we speak of failing fast, many corporate executives are not going to do so successfully because a) corporates continue to expect success b) the highest achievers are the ones being asked to fail at what they are best at and c) we are injecting perfectionism into our testing and prototyping.

As lean and agile methods have permeated businesses both large and small, the notions of excellence and success have been replaced by catch cries around ‘failing fast, often and cheap’.

There is a certain amount of what we call ‘innovation theatre’ (the speak but not the action) around failure awards and risk rewards in the innovation ecosystem. It sounds brilliant but I am yet to walk into a room of employees that does not speak of ‘fear of failure’ in the organisation.

Notwithstanding some excellent programs around experimentation, with most clients, I hear:

  • “You are not paid to experiment. You are paid to know.”
  • “You can’t take risks or try anything new.”
  • “There is no way that I will agree to take on a big project like that. I’d rather play it safe.”
  • “We lose so much time getting all the boxes ticked.”

I now work with a variety of engineering companies and most not only encounter this issue but also cannot afford to fail. The investments are too substantial or the safety risks too great.

As a general rule, perfectionism is rewarded. Mistakes are not. The corporate paradigm is predicated on providing shareholder value and this does not leave a lot of wriggle room for mistakes.

There also seems to be a dissonance in organisations between what is preached and what is practiced or, in other words, what is promised and what is, in fact, punished. We hear the leadership talk about taking risks but, in parallel, see a colleague fired when an initiative fails.

EXPERTS DON’T LIKE TO FAIL

Not only is the general idea of failing an issue but, specifically, the ones most expected to ‘fail fast’ and be experimental are often those least willing to. Let me illustrate what I mean:

You know when you are amongst the high potentials in a corporate. You tend to get the ‘good gigs’. You are sent to head office for special training programs. You get more opportunities. You get more time with the boss. You also have more occasions to get involved in special projects.

One of the projects I was interested in when I was in a corporate role was part of a four-pillar strategy and the one I was dying to lead was around building an innovation culture. My title didn’t include the word ‘innovation’—no one had that in the organisation at the time—but I was given the green light to drive an innovation community, train coaches and inject innovative thinking across the business. I received the flack, but I also enjoyed the buzz. I did this alongside other ‘high potentials’. Anyone who was given permission to step outside their objectives and spend time helping others to solve their problems tended to be perceived as being excellent at their day job and was encouraged to do more.

Most of the people in the project were high performers in their roles and, ironically—unless an exceptional growth mindset prevails— probably the least likely people to want to be seen making mistakes or failing.

This is entirely consistent with research performed by Liz Wiseman who identified how our expertise and expectation of excellence when working in our area of expertise prevents us from exposing ourselves to less than excellent work.

A similar desire for excellence and perfectionism creeps into prototyping and the way we test out ideas. There is a tendency to overwork the prototype, to create something fully-functioning. As Alberto Savoia—who coined the word ‘pretotyping’—said: “The tough part is getting over our compulsion for premature perfectionism and our desire to add more features, or content, before releasing the first version.”

A pretotype is a stripped-down version of a product, used to merely validate interest. For your restaurant with delivery service, a pretotype could be a simple website that tracks how many visitors come to your page, giving you an idea as to whether or not people would be interested in ordering food from you.

Melbourne-based thought leader, Steve Glaveski, writes that corporate executives have understood the need to prototype but are not tending to ‘fail fast’ because “What they create is too often fully-functioning concepts which cost thousands of dollars and take months to develop.”

This may be particularly true for the technology providers. “People get stuck into tech too quickly,” explains Streicher Louw, Behavioural Strategist and former Innovation Lead at NBN. “They try to build the prototype in too high a fidelity. The moment you start carving that prototype into tech, it is less malleable.”

Not only is it ‘less malleable’ but the teams behind the prototyped concept have a strong incentive to ‘prove’ the value of the investment. The more you invest in it, the harder it will be to let it go and admit it was the wrong thing. You are likely to add more bells and whistles and expect that this will win the customer over.

Louw, who spent seven years in Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) where there is a strong culture of Human Centred Design and experimentation, says: “We get so much more for our efforts if we take the time to work out what problem a product solves for a customer and how he intends to use it before we start to build it.”

In many cases, it leads to months of wasted time and large sums of money, energy, hopes and dreams.

So how can we do a better job of failing fast?

EMBRACE DISCOMFORT

The challenge is to make failing more palatable, more tenable. To do that we need to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. How? There are a number of steps organisations can take and environments they can create.

1. Don’t just tell them, enable them.

At innovation conferences, we occasionally hear from corporate intrapreneurs who have instigated failure awards or CEOs who have learned to be vulnerable with their organisation and share mistakes. Both remain the exception. The most realistic initiatives I have encountered do not overplay the tolerance for risk taking or mistakes, rather, they remove obstacles for doing things differently and invest in the enablers (robust methods, resources, skilled experts). People are rewarded for working with other teams to help solve their problems. More focus is put on the work that goes on behind the scenes to get to a result (good or bad). People are not simply told to ‘go and innovate’; they are offered solid training in methods that will help with the full innovation journey. People are not fired for trying.

2. High performers should work outside their comfort zone to free them up to make mistakes.

Have you noticed how people feel safer asking what they think is a ‘stupid question’ in contexts where they are not expected to know better? In my innovation lead role, the workshops I ran for product managers in divisions outside mine were probably where I could bring most value. I was expert in a method but knew nothing about their business and felt entirely free to ask the naive and pointy questions. The participants were also more receptive to my input because I was not invested in the project; I wasn’t perceived as having an agenda.

“Put your staff in situations where they can’t help but make mistakes. Position them at the bottom of a learning curve where they’ll need to scramble back to the top by taking small steps, making mistakes, and getting fast feedback. Do more than make failure an option, make it inevitable,” advises Liz Wiseman.

This realisation is apparent in the Wiseman Group’s research which suggests that we should deliberately put people outside their area of expertise so that they give themselves permission to produce the minimum viable product, “not because they are told to, but because that’s all they know how to do”.

When we work in this ‘rookie mode’, as Wiseman calls it, we approach things in surprisingly productive and innovative ways.

Many of us have experienced this and I use this when assigning innovation champions outside their area of expertise. When we step out of our comfort zone and are not expected to be experts, we are less weighed down by expectations. Our novice state makes us more curious, we listen better and we are more humble and receptive to others. When I have managed others or observed myself in this mode, I find that I am more likely to make mistakes but I get over them faster. You tend to chunk things down and check on how you are doing and learn and adjust in a more agile way.

3. Run thought experiments that embrace ambiguity (with constraints).

One of the safest ways of testing what you know before talking with the customer is to run ‘safe’ thought experiments. Some simple yet robust approaches I have used include:

▶ Mapping exercises where you walk in the shoes of your customer and explore the ‘so what?’ of the key features of a given offering. SIT calls this ‘Attribute Value Mapping’ and it’s a great way of not only identifying sticky value propositions but unearthing what you need to improve to make the proposition all the more true!

▶ Bias-busting exercises using tools to scan for any mental fixedness that might have undermined the concept—before you move to testing it.

▶ Asking the ‘empty chair’. It is an established practice to include empty chairs for absent stakeholders. You then check your idea from their perspective.

4. Get used to working with a range of low-fidelity prototypes.

Try to use the fastest method of validation that you think is reasonable. The cadence of business is increasing. Cycles have to decrease. Fast prototyping is crucial. The term comes from the Greek word prōtotypon meaning ‘a first or primitive form’. It is just that.

“You will uncover the product you are supposed to make by prototyping the one you thought you should make,” says Streicher Louw.

If we are truly going to ‘fail fast’, we need to avoid falling in love with our idea and move quickly and cheaply. Be experimental and document both your hypotheses and what you learn. Teams should be created that enable effective experimentation and include a copywriter, a graphic artist, a data specialist and someone well versed in the products.

In my experience, there is tremendous value in rough concepts as a quick and easy way of testing functionality rather than a more polished visual representation of a product or service. The more finished it is, the less they engage and feel they can contribute. It feels done and dusted.

“When the first person you give it to uses it differently to how you intended, rather than educating the user you adapt the design,” says Louw.

The mindset needs to be one that is totally geared towards adapting to the user. It should be rough and approximate so that it is as flexible as possible, meaning that you can learn and change it quickly and for zero cost as you do.

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, warns that: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” And nobody wants to do that.

Most of us cannot afford to be playing it safe. We need to accelerate the learning cycle. If we want this idea of failing fast to be meaningful, we need to give people the frameworks to innovate, the space to run safe thought experiments, to build iteratively and the opportunity to work outside their area of expertise to free them up from their own aversion to failure.

12 WAYS TO ‘FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT’

In most cases, these should be shared with target customers or users to have them interact with it, respond, hone and, if possible, co-create.

1. Diagrams & Maps

Any sort of diagram or map can be a prototype. That includes stakeholder, process, customer journey, jobs to be done, UX maps. Work through what the customer is seeking to do and explore current and proposed solutions to see where they fit along the customer journey or on a simple map.

2. Stories

News of the Future: Tell the story of your idea and describe what the experience will be like. Letter to Grandma: Would she understand your concept?

3. Cardboard

Create low fidelity prototypes; simply mock up a concept using cardboard, sticky tape, bluetack and imagination and see people interacting with it. This way they can very rapidly work out how people use it. Build the next iteration incorporating user interaction with a first level of technology but with a human behind it, the processing is still simulated. Once the cardboard has done the job, you may want to move to prototyping tools such as POP or Invision to build an app that people can play with.

4. Sketches

We all know that a picture tells a thousand words.

5. Lego prototyping

Bring in some customers and describe your product. Have them build it with Lego while your model remains hidden. Bring yours out and discuss only once you have gleaned insights from their models.

6. Storyboarding

This is a visualisation of the complete experience over time.

Break it into scenes to make sense of interactions. Invite your customers to react and adapt.

7. Wizard of Oz pretotypes

This is rather artful deception in that the MVP is an illusion. There is nothing behind it. Zappos is known for having started with no store or inventory of their own; they simply had a web page. Dropbox was launched on the back of a simple three-minute video on ‘Hacker News’ which gave the founder immediate, high quality feedback.

It is a clever approach but should not feel like false advertising as that will quickly erode trust.

8. Social media ads, eDMs and landing pages

Eventbrite, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook—all these platforms enable you to cheaply test a concept and, based on click-rate, decide if there is a market. This is a good way to test purchase intent. It is also a good way to test two different campaigns with distinct value propositions.

9. Crowdfunding

The beauty of this approach is that it gives you the ability to test the market while raising funds to build it. In 2012 in what was then the most successful Kickstarter (crowdfunding platform) campaign in history, Pebble Technology Corporation was able to prove a market for wearable tech long before any of the tech giants moved in that direction.

10. 3D prototypes

Most of us have now seen a 3D printer in action. They are astonishing. They are also a relatively cheap way of testing the look and feel—as opposed to the functionality—of a concept.

11. Pilot Simulations

This is simply small scale testing of an experience. It is possible to create a different experience in a single store, for example, without generalising across all stores.

12. Run ECHO sessions

Use very rough sketches of concepts to enable clients to Engage, Co-create and HOne the solution.

Image credit: Rachel Audige

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