Category Archives: Psychology

Trust is the Answer to Any Question

Trust is the Answer to Any Question

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If you want to make a difference, build trust.

If you want to build trust, do a project together.

If you want to build more trust, help the team do work they think is impossible.

If you want to build more trust, contribute to the project in the background.

If you want to build more trust, actively give credit to others.

If you want to build more trust, deny your involvement.

If you want to create change, build trust.

If you want to build trust, be patient.

If you want to build more trust, be more patient.

If you want to build more trust, check your ego at the door so you can be even more patient.

If you want to have influence, build trust.

If you want to build trust, do something for others.

If you want to build more trust, do something for others that keeps them out of trouble.

If you want to build more trust, do something for others that comes at your expense.

If you want to build more trust, do it all behind the scenes.

If you want to build more trust, plead ignorance.

If you want the next project to be successful, build trust.

If you want to build trust, deliver what you promise.

If you want to build more trust, deliver more than you promise.

If you want to build more trust, deliver more than you promise and give the credit to others.

If you want deep friendships, build trust.

If you want to build trust, give reinforcing feedback.

If you want to build more trust, give reinforcing and correcting feedback in equal amounts.

If you want to build trust, give reinforcing feedback in public and correcting feedback in private.

If you want your work to have meaning, build trust.

Image credit: misterinnovation.com

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3 Steps to Building a Psychologically Safe Environment

or The No-Cost, No-Hug Secret to Smarter Teams

3 Steps to Building a Psychologically Safe Environment

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Welcome to the exciting conclusion of “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Psychological Safety but Were Afraid to Ask.”

Our generous expert, Alla Weinberg, CEO and Culture designer at Spoke & Wheel, has been patiently leading us beyond and through the buzzy frothiness that we (I) usually associate with Psychological Safety and into the deeply powerful and absolutely essential core elements.

In Part 1, we learned that psychological safety is more neuroscience than psychology (and required to be your smartest self).

In Part 2, we learned the first step to creating safety (and why corporate mandates are antithetical to the goal). 

Today, we’re going where we need but don’t want to go – how to create a psychologically safe environment so everyone can thrive.


If Step 1 in creating Psychological Safety is verbalizing your emotions and understanding others’ emotions, I’m hoping Step 2 is easier.

Step two is relational intelligence.

There are three intelligences: emotional, relational, and systems

Relational intelligence is about understanding how to connect with different people, being aware when disconnection happens, and then acknowledging and repairing it. That last part is the most important because, without repair, there’s no safety.

Are you saying that saying, “I’m sorry” is essential to building psychological safety?  Because I would much rather ignore the issues and move on.  Or, better yet, pretend it never happened.

Nice try.  But you know as well as I do that people are messy, and when we come together, there’s tension and conflict, and someone will get hurt or make mistakes. It’s normal.  It’s okay as long as you know how to recover, repair, and heal.

The issue isn’t the conflict but how we handle it and whether we can repair it. I have a diagram of a relationship, which is a circle of connection, disconnection, and repair. We go around this circle just like breathing is inhaling and exhaling.  Relating, connecting, disconnecting, and repairing is what a relationship is.

OK, step 2 is relational intelligence which requires repairing relationships, so how do I do that?  Bonus points if I don’t have to admit to being wrong.

Not only do you have to admit that, but you also need to take responsibility for your impact, not just your intentions. Intentions are great, but without action, they don’t mean much.

When apologizing, we tend to try to explain ourselves.  For example, we say, “I didn’t say anything in that meeting, and I’m sorry, but that wasn’t my intention, and I wanted to, but I had my own issue.” Instead, we should say, “I didn’t say anything in that meeting, and I’m sorry.”

When you apologize, don’t say “but.” To repair a relationship, you must take responsibility for your actions and their impact. Saying “but” negates all of that.

(head now on the desk because this is a lot to take in): I’m afraid to ask what Step 3 is, but I will practice verbalizing my feelings and ask anyway.  What’s Step 3?

You’re doing great.  This is a lot, and it’s ok that you feel overwhelmed.

Step 3 is systems intelligence, which focuses on the relationships within an organization that gives rise to its culture. Systems thinking is about understanding how structures, policies, processes, and relationships interact to create a greater whole,

Systems thinking!  We’re getting back to left-brained stuff now.  I’m feeling better.

Yes, and since connection is core to psychological safety, systems thinking tells us that we must fundamentally rethink how people work together by centering connection.

How do we do that?

We must reinvent, innovate, and rethink how we work together.

Lack of safety leads to power struggles, walls, and departmental rivalries, creating divisions and “othering.”

Hierarchy doesn’t align with connection, but shared leadership does. Hierarchy erodes trust because you need manager approvals, beg for budgets, or are told to prove your worth to get a seat at the table.

Silos are another problem because they lead to turf wars and people making decisions to protect themselves or their team rather than do what’s best for the greater good. 

Look, I love challenging the status quo, but you’re suggesting that we burn it all to the ground and start over.

(Laughing) I don’t lead with that.  When I work with organizations, I start with meetings.

Most meetings focus on work topics like status, decisions, and updates. But where are the meetings where we discuss emotions, share personal stories, and express hurt feelings? Everything shifts when we center connection.

Isn’t that called therapy?

Organizations value information, right?  Emotions are information.

Emotions reside in our bodies, but in many organizations, the focus is on the intellect.  It’s as if the head is the only important part, and the body is merely a vessel to transport the head from meeting to meeting.

And that brings us full circle to why psychological safety is mostly neuroscience.  Our body houses our nervous system, where we feel safety or the lack thereof. So, when people talk about bringing their whole selves to work, I mean our entire body, not just the intellect. Our bodies contain wisdom and information that we often overlook and undervalue, yet this is where the crucial information resides to create psychological safety.

We don’t think of emotions as information.  We think of them as signs of weakness, and you can’t be weak and successful.

It’s a lot of fear because how we’ve worked for the last 50 years gave us an illusion of certainty.  Acknowledging that there is no certainty and that we’re in entirely uncharted territory is scary, and there’s a fear that everything will fall apart. We think the business won’t survive if we do it the other way.

I respect that fear. It’s okay to be afraid. But if we acknowledge that all of this comes from fear, we will be open to new ideas or thoughts. For organizations that want to innovate, they must change how they work. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. You need to innovate your approach to work.

Thank you so much for all of this.  You’ve shared so much.  Some of it was hard to hear, but I think that’s also a sign that it’s important to hear.  Any last words of advice?

Give yourself and others permission to be human beings again.  Not robots or cogs, not human resources, but to be human beings. That includes our bodies, our emotions, our messiness, and our relationships with each other.


If you would like to learn more about Alla and her work, please visit her firm’s website, www.spokeandwheel.coand definitely download a FREE digital copy of her book, A Culture of Safety: Building a Work Environment Where People Can Think, Collaborate, and Innovate

Image Credit: Pexels

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Resistance to Innovation – What if electric cars came first?

Resistance to Innovation - What if electric cars came first?

GUEST POST from Dennis Stauffer

In his acclaimed book the The Diffusion of Innovations—the most-cited work in all the social sciences—Everett Rogers explained how innovations frequently meet resistance. Resistance that isn’t always rational. How all-too-often we’re willing to accept the status quo despite its flaws and reject new options despite their benefits.

We’re seeing exactly this phenomenon with electric vehicles. Demand from what Rogers identified as the early adopters—wealthy buyers who can pay a premium for the newest technology—has largely been met. The challenge now is to reach a broader market of buyers with more practical concerns about cost, range, reliability, and safety. News articles and commentary are popping up noting those concerns and expressing doubts about just how useful electric cars really are. The lack of charging stations, the environmental impact of mining lithium, the danger of battery fires, and potential strains to the electrical grid. There are some legitimate concerns, but how much of that skepticism is grounded in the reality of electrification and how much is good old-fashioned resistance to change?

To answer that question, let’s turn the tables. What if electric cars came first, and we’re trying to introduce internal combustion engines? Here are some predictable—and quite similar—objections.

  • How can we possibly build all the gas stations we’re going to need, and should we? (If electrification is the entrenched technology, we’d have plenty of charging stations everywhere.)
  • Do you really want trucks carrying 10,000 gallons of highly explosive gasoline driving down the highway next to you? Accidents happen! Do you want 20 gallons of it parked in your garage, waiting for just one spark to set it off—taking your house with it?
  • You can charge your electric car at home while you sleep, or at a charging station while at work. You can’t do that with a gasoline engine. You must go somewhere to buy gas, take time to get there, and then stand next to a hose pumping one of the most flammable liquids we know of.
  • We’re going to need a lot of that gasoline. Where will we find it, and at what environmental cost? Are we going to start drilling everywhere? Even in the ocean, the arctic, and in fragile ecosystems?  Are we going to have massive tankers crisscrossing the oceans? What if there’s a leak or a spill?
  • How are we going to build all the refining capacity we’ll need to process and transport all that gas? That’s a massive investment. Who’s going to pay for it?
  • What if we need to get that gas from countries that don’t like us? Will they refuse to sell to us or charge exorbitant prices? Will we make our enemies rich?
  • Gasoline is more expensive per mile driven than electricity, and because it’s a commodity, its price fluctuates—sometimes a lot. You never know what you may have to pay.
  • Gasoline engines are a lot more expensive than electric motors. They’re much more complex and since we’re building them in smaller numbers at first, carmakers don’t have the same economies of scale.
  • Internal combustion engines are more complex to repair. How often will your car need to be fixed? Will your mechanic know how?
  • What about air pollution? Just one internal combustion car emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. Multiply that by all the cars on the road!
  • Would you like a car that’s slower? The most powerful—and most expensive—internal combustion cars on the road have less torque than a typical electric vehicle. That means less acceleration when you need to pass someone.

Some of these concerns are a bit overblown — just like some of the concerns about electric cars. But others are entirely valid. Yet too often we shrug them off because we’ve already accepted those costs, inconveniences, and dangers.

What we’re seeing with electric cars is the same progression we saw with early automobiles, airplanes, hybrid crops, personal computers, and many other now widely popular innovations. We’ll get there, but not without some pushback.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Master the Customer Hierarchy of Needs

Embrace Customer Expectations

Master the Customer Hierarchy of Needs

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who created a model for understanding human behavior. Specifically, he was interested in what motivated people, and he devised five levels in the shape of a pyramid representing each of those needs. For those who need a refresher in psychology, those levels, starting with the basic needs at the bottom and working their way toward the top, are physiological needs (such as food, water and sleep), safety, love and belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization.

I’ve been thinking about a similar model for customers. I’m not a psychologist, and I’ve not done formal research on this idea, but I’ve been studying customer and employee experience in some form for more than 40 years. I’ve identified five areas (at least) that are important to customers when they buy from you and put them into logical order. So, here is ‘The Customer Hierarchy Of Needs’:

Customer Hierarchy of Needs

1. Products that Work – We’re starting at the bottom of the pyramid and working our way up. This is the base, and it’s simple: whatever you sell must do what you promise it will do. It doesn’t matter how great your customer service and experience (CX) are, if the product or service doesn’t work, customers will find an alternative.

2. Alignment in Beliefs – Your mission and vision statements are your beliefs. Your customers shouldn’t have to read those statements to know what they are. They should experience them when they do business with you. They will quickly learn how you treat them. If they like the experience, they align with you and what you stand for. While that can be enough, they may also enjoy doing business with you because of something that may or may not be in your mission and vision statements. That is a cause, charity or community activity your company or brand is involved with or contributes to. It adds to the emotional connection you’re trying to achieve with your customers.

3. Trust and Safety – If the company or brand has a bad reputation, getting and keeping customers will be tough. Even customers willing to take a chance may eventually experience what others have warned them about. Trust and safety belong together, but let’s first discuss trust. A sense of trust comes from different areas that can include (but are not limited to) a good reputation, positive reviews and ratings, customer-friendly policies (like easy returns), simple and friction-less processes, fast response times and friendly, helpful employees. Safety comes from assurances, including data privacy, secure websites, safe physical environments and more. Even if you have products that work—the basic need—without trust and safety, you might not be able to keep your customers past the first sale, assuming you have any at all.

4. Feeling Appreciated – Every customer willing to pay you for your goods and services deserves to feel appreciated. If you don’t acknowledge the customer with a simple thank you, they may not notice the first time. But there will be a point at which they feel underappreciated, and when they do, you put yourself at risk of losing them. Never miss an opportunity to express appreciation to your customers.

5. Emotional Connection – This is where you move customers from being satisfied to becoming loyal. Satisfied customers come back until something better comes along. Loyal customers come back because they like doing business with you and have made an emotional connection with you. They know your product works, they trust you, you make them feel confident (and safe) when engaging with you, they believe you have a good company and there may even be a cause or charity you mutually support, and every time they interact with you, they feel appreciated. At that point, your customers are feeling emotionally connected to you. Trust and appreciation are emotions. When all the boxes are ticked, you have the emotional connection that drives customer loyalty, advocacy and evangelism.

I could have written an entire article—or even a chapter in a book—on each of these five customer needs. Consider this article as a conversation starter. Perhaps you can add to this list of customer needs. Just because Maslow had five in his model doesn’t mean we are limited to that number.

Next week I’ll cover a similar concept, but instead of customers, I’ll focus on ‘The Employee Hierarchy Of Needs’. Stay tuned!

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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Are You Testing Your Intuitions?

Are You Testing Your Intuitions?

GUEST POST from Dennis Stauffer

Do you trust your intuitions? When you have a hunch, do you go with it or hold back? There’s been a long-running debate about which is the better strategy.

Some have claimed that top executives are at their best when they “go with their gut” or “follow their instincts.” They can give examples of when that’s turned out well for them. But what we don’t know is how often other intuitions may have turned out badly.

Trusting your intuitions can sometimes keep you safe. Some research has found that firefighters are well-served by their intuitions, because it helps them avoid danger. Women who are uneasy walking alone at night are advised to follow their intuitions.

That makes sense when you’re crossing a dark parking lot or at the scene of a fire. Being cautious when there might be no threat is better than being careless when there might be one. But that doesn’t mean those intuitions are accurate.

Innovators also have intuitions—and need to. Hunches about the value of an idea, or a sense of how customers will react. For an innovator, asking whether you should trust your intuitions is the wrong question. What needs to be asked instead is: How can I test my intuitions? What can I do to find out whether those feelings are reliable?

That’s one reasons innovators have a bias for action. Because acting on their ideas—in ways that will test them—is how they find out whether those ideas will work. That’s not only a more prudent approach than just following hunches; it’s excellent practice at evaluating the merits of your ideas. So over time, you become better at forming those hunches. Because you know how well it worked in the past, and maybe where you might have biases.

If you want to enhance your intuitions—and your innovativeness—don’t trust them or distrust them.

Test them.

View this post on video here if you prefer:

Image Credit: misterinnovation.com

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Top 100 Innovation and Transformation Articles of 2023

Top 100 Innovation and Transformation Articles of 2023

2021 marked the re-birth of my original Blogging Innovation blog as a new blog called Human-Centered Change and Innovation.

Many of you may know that Blogging Innovation grew into the world’s most popular global innovation community before being re-branded as InnovationExcellence.com and being ultimately sold to DisruptorLeague.com.

Thanks to an outpouring of support I’ve ignited the fuse of this new multiple author blog around the topics of human-centered change, innovation, transformation and design.

I feel blessed that the global innovation and change professional communities have responded with a growing roster of contributing authors and more than 17,000 newsletter subscribers.

To celebrate we’ve pulled together the Top 100 Innovation and Transformation Articles of 2023 from our archive of over 1,800 articles on these topics.

We do some other rankings too.

We just published the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2023 and as the volume of this blog has grown we have brought back our monthly article ranking to complement this annual one.

But enough delay, here are the 100 most popular innovation and transformation posts of 2023.

Did your favorite make the cut?

1. Fear is a Leading Indicator of Personal Growth – by Mike Shipulski

2. The Education Business Model Canvas – by Arlen Meyers

3. Act Like an Owner – Revisited! – by Shep Hyken

4. Free Innovation Maturity Assessment – by Braden Kelley

5. The Role of Stakeholder Analysis in Change Management – by Art Inteligencia

6. What is Human-Centered Change? – by Braden Kelley

7. Sustaining Imagination is Hard – by Braden Kelley

8. The One Movie All Electric Car Designers Should Watch – by Braden Kelley

9. 50 Cognitive Biases Reference – Free Download – by Braden Kelley

10. A 90% Project Failure Rate Means You’re Doing it Wrong – by Mike Shipulski

11. No Regret Decisions: The First Steps of Leading through Hyper-Change – by Phil Buckley

12. Reversible versus Irreversible Decisions – by Farnham Street

13. Three Maps to Innovation Success – by Robyn Bolton

14. Why Most Corporate Innovation Programs Fail (And How To Make Them Succeed) – by Greg Satell

15. The Paradox of Innovation Leadership – by Janet Sernack

16. Innovation Management ISO 56000 Series Explained – by Diana Porumboiu

17. An Introduction to Journey Maps – by Braden Kelley

18. Sprint Toward the Innovation Action – by Mike Shipulski

19. Marriott’s Approach to Customer Service – by Shep Hyken

20. Should a Bad Grade in Organic Chemistry be a Doctor Killer? – NYU Professor Fired for Giving Students Bad Grades – by Arlen Meyers, M.D.

21. How Networks Power Transformation – by Greg Satell

22. Are We Abandoning Science? – by Greg Satell

23. A Tipping Point for Organizational Culture – by Janet Sernack

24. Latest Interview with the What’s Next? Podcast – with Braden Kelley

25. Scale Your Innovation by Mapping Your Value Network – by John Bessant

26. Leveraging Emotional Intelligence in Change Leadership – by Art Inteligencia

27. Visual Project Charter™ – 35″ x 56″ (Poster Size) and JPG for Online Whiteboarding – by Braden Kelley

28. Unintended Consequences. The Hidden Risk of Fast-Paced Innovation – by Pete Foley

29. A Shortcut to Making Strategic Trade-Offs – by Geoffrey A. Moore

30. 95% of Work is Noise – by Mike Shipulski


Build a common language of innovation on your team


31. 8 Strategies to Future-Proofing Your Business & Gaining Competitive Advantage – by Teresa Spangler

32. The Nine Innovation Roles – by Braden Kelley

33. The Fail Fast Fallacy – by Rachel Audige

34. What is the Difference Between Signals and Trends? – by Art Inteligencia

35. A Top-Down Open Innovation Approach – by Geoffrey A. Moore

36. FutureHacking – Be Your Own Futurist – by Braden Kelley

37. Five Key Digital Transformation Barriers – by Howard Tiersky

38. The Malcolm Gladwell Trap – by Greg Satell

39. Four Characteristics of High Performing Teams – by David Burkus

40. ACMP Standard for Change Management® Visualization – 35″ x 56″ (Poster Size) – Association of Change Management Professionals – by Braden Kelley

41. 39 Digital Transformation Hacks – by Stefan Lindegaard

42. The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Future Employment – by Chateau G Pato

43. A Triumph of Artificial Intelligence Rhetoric – Understanding ChatGPT – by Geoffrey A. Moore

44. Imagination versus Knowledge – Is imagination really more important? – by Janet Sernack

45. A New Innovation Sphere – by Pete Foley

46. The Pyramid of Results, Motivation and Ability – Changing Outcomes, Changing Behavior – by Braden Kelley

47. Three HOW MIGHT WE Alternatives That Actually Spark Creative Ideas – by Robyn Bolton

48. Innovation vs. Invention vs. Creativity – by Braden Kelley

49. Where People Go Wrong with Minimum Viable Products – by Greg Satell

50. Will Artificial Intelligence Make Us Stupid? – by Shep Hyken


Accelerate your change and transformation success


51. A Global Perspective on Psychological Safety – by Stefan Lindegaard

52. Customer Service is a Team Sport – by Shep Hyken

53. Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2022 – Curated by Braden Kelley

54. A Flop is Not a Failure – by John Bessant

55. Generation AI Replacing Generation Z – by Braden Kelley

56. ‘Innovation’ is Killing Innovation. How Do We Save It? – by Robyn Bolton

57. Ten Ways to Make Time for Innovation – by Nick Jain

58. The Five Keys to Successful Change – by Braden Kelley

59. Back to Basics: The Innovation Alphabet – by Robyn Bolton

60. The Role of Stakeholder Analysis in Change Management – by Art Inteligencia

61. Will CHATgpt make us more or less innovative? – by Pete Foley

62. 99.7% of Innovation Processes Miss These 3 Essential Steps – by Robyn Bolton

63. Rethinking Customer Journeys – by Geoffrey A. Moore

64. Reasons Change Management Frequently Fails – by Greg Satell

65. The Experiment Canvas™ – 35″ x 56″ (Poster Size) – by Braden Kelley

66. AI Has Already Taken Over the World – by Braden Kelley

67. How to Lead Innovation and Embrace Innovative Leadership – by Diana Porumboiu

68. Five Questions All Leaders Should Always Be Asking – by David Burkus

69. Latest Innovation Management Research Revealed – by Braden Kelley

70. A Guide to Effective Brainstorming – by Diana Porumboiu

71. Unlocking the Power of Imagination – How Humans and AI Can Collaborate for Innovation and Creativity – by Teresa Spangler

72. Rise of the Prompt Engineer – by Art Inteligencia

73. Taking Care of Yourself is Not Impossible – by Mike Shipulski

74. Design Thinking Facilitator Guide – A Crash Course in the Basics – by Douglas Ferguson

75. What Have We Learned About Digital Transformation Thus Far? – by Geoffrey A. Moore

76. Building a Better Change Communication Plan – by Braden Kelley

77. How to Determine if Your Problem is Worth Solving – by Mike Shipulski

78. Increasing Organizational Agility – by Braden Kelley

79. Mystery of Stonehenge Solved – by Braden Kelley

80. Agility is the 2023 Success Factor – by Soren Kaplan


Get the Change Planning Toolkit


81. The Five Gifts of Uncertainty – by Robyn Bolton

82. 3 Innovation Types Not What You Think They Are – by Robyn Bolton

83. Using Limits to Become Limitless – by Rachel Audige

84. What Disruptive Innovation Really Is – by Geoffrey A. Moore

85. Today’s Customer Wants to Go Fast – by Shep Hyken

86. The 6 Building Blocks of Great Teams – by David Burkus

87. Unlock Hundreds of Ideas by Doing This One Thing – Inspired by Hollywood – by Robyn Bolton

88. Moneyball and the Beginning, Middle, and End of Innovation – by Robyn Bolton

89. There are Only 3 Reasons to Innovate – Which One is Yours? – by Robyn Bolton

90. A Shortcut to Making Strategic Trade-Offs – by Geoffrey A. Moore

91. Customer Experience Personified – by Braden Kelley

92. 3 Steps to a Truly Terrific Innovation Team – by Robyn Bolton

93. Building a Positive Team Culture – by David Burkus

94. Apple Watch Must Die – by Braden Kelley

95. Kickstarting Change and Innovation in Uncertain Times – by Janet Sernack

96. Take Charge of Your Mind to Reclaim Your Potential – by Janet Sernack

97. Psychological Safety, Growth Mindset and Difficult Conversations to Shape the Future – by Stefan Lindegaard

98. 10 Ways to Rock the Customer Experience In 2023 – by Shep Hyken

99. Artificial Intelligence is Forcing Us to Answer Some Very Human Questions – by Greg Satell

100. 23 Ways in 2023 to Create Amazing Experiences – by Shep Hyken

Curious which article just missed the cut? Well, here it is just for fun:

101. Why Business Strategies Should Not Be Scientific – by Greg Satell

These are the Top 100 innovation and transformation articles of 2023 based on the number of page views. If your favorite Human-Centered Change & Innovation article didn’t make the cut, then send a tweet to @innovate and maybe we’ll consider doing a People’s Choice List for 2023.

If you’re not familiar with Human-Centered Change & Innovation, we publish 1-6 new articles every week focused on human-centered change, innovation, transformation and design insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook feed or on Twitter or LinkedIn too!

Editor’s Note: Human-Centered Change & Innovation is open to contributions from any and all the innovation & transformation professionals out there (practitioners, professors, researchers, consultants, authors, etc.) who have a valuable insight to share with everyone for the greater good. If you’d like to contribute, contact us.

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The Emotions of an Innovator

The Emotions of an Innovator

GUEST POST from Dennis Stauffer

Your emotional state has a lot to do with how innovative you are, especially when those emotions are negative. How willing are you to act in the face of uncertainty and take those risks? How comfortable are you with new ideas and interpretations that may conflict with those you have? Can you overcome your biases to gain a clear-eyed understanding of the challenges you face? The fears and prejudices we all have can undermine our ability to find solutions.

Take a few moments to recall some of the negative emotions you’ve experienced in your life.

Things like:

  • Frustration
  • Disappointment
  • Jealously
  • Resentment
  • Annoyance
  • Anger     …and that’s just the short list.

One thing they all have in common is that they make you feel bad. They undermine your happiness. They can also hamper your ability to innovate.

Now ask yourself: What prompted those emotions? I suspect you think of something that happened or that someone did that upset you, but there are deeper reasons for these emotions. They form when something isn’t what you expect or hope for. Someone isn’t doing what you want, or that you think they should. You think something needs to be corrected. You already have some outcome you’d prefer, an expectation that isn’t being met.

That’s your mindset—your beliefs about how things should be—beliefs that generate those expectations. You may think someone is doing something wrong. Perhaps they’re being mean or rude. But that means you have an idea in your head of what’s right—how you think they should behave. Or, something may not have turned out the way you hoped. Maybe you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. But that means you think you should have been given something you didn’t receive.

Change those expectations and your emotional response changes. What’s happening in your head has just as much or more impact on the emotions you feel, as whatever is happening around you—and that’s empowering. When you blame your emotions on what others do, you hand them control over your emotional state. They determine how you feel.

When you realize that your beliefs and expectations—your mindset—primes you to feel those emotions, you gain control over how you feel. Instead of anger, you can substitute curiosity about why someone would behave that way. Instead of annoyance at someone’s missteps, you can choose to be amused. Instead of disappointment, you can shift to resolve to learn from your setbacks. Instead of embarrassment, you can choose to feel humility. Instead of feeling the urge to punish someone, you can choose to feel compassion and understanding.

External events may not have changed. Those are things you don’t control. What changes is your mindset—something you can control. When you realize that you create your own emotions and take steps to create fewer negative ones, you increase your own happiness—regardless of what life throws at you. Skilled innovators have a mindset that minimizes their negative emotions. Because instead of focusing on what needs to be corrected—to restore the status quo—they focus on what can be improved. That enhances their capacity to enhance. Enhance a product or service, enhance their community and the larger world, and enhance their own lives.

Here is a video of this post if you prefer:

Image Credit: Pixabay

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How to Use Your Nervous System to Feel Psychologically Safe

or “Why Mandating a Return to the Office Destroys Safety”

How to Use Your Nervous System to Feel Psychologically Safe

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In last week’s episode, we learned that psychological safety is more neuroscience than psychology and the huge role our nervous system plays in our experience of safety. 

This week, we’re going deeper into our nervous system and how we can use our understanding of it to influence our psychology.


I’m sensing I can’t think my way to safety.  So, can I fix my nervous system to feel safe and smart?

This is where I go beyond Dr. Amy Edmondson’s definition of psychological safety to incorporate neuroscience and how our nervous system works.

Our nervous system has three states:

  1. Immobilization or the freeze response, as you felt, is often accompanied by a sense of overwhelm
  2. Fight-and-flight when you try to either end the conversation or become more aggressive, resistant, and push back on exploring other alternatives.
  3. Rest-and-Digest when you feel safe, social, and connected to the people around you

This third state sets humans and mammals apart from other living things.  Communicating and connecting serve as a survival mechanism and represent a safe state for our nervous system.  When we communicate and connect, our tribe looks out for us and keeps us safe from threats like lions or unfriendly tribes.

So, the answer is to foster more profound connections among human beings, which requires going well beyond our work roles and activities.

Does it require hugging?  I knew it would require hugging.

Don’t worry, hugging isn’t mandatory.

We, as individuals, have a strong desire to connect and communicate, but it doesn’t necessarily require physical proximity. Being physically together doesn’t guarantee anything.

But what about the push to return to the office? There’s even research to support executives’ claims that physical proximity is essential to culture, innovation, and connection.

Not only does physical proximity not guarantee anything, but being forced to return to the office causes more harm than good. 

From a safety perspective, our nervous system doesn’t want to feel trapped. Being forced back to the office activates our flight-or-fight response and erodes safety. Because of how our nervous system perceives choices, the more choices people have, the safer they feel.

Even though I’m tempted to ask questions about building psychological safety at the team or company level, I want to stay on the individual level for a moment. We talked about how I wasn’t consciously unsafe during a phone call. How can I tell when I feel unsafe if I’m not conscious of it?

There’s physical science behind what happens when you feel unsafe. Your heart rate increases, you might hold your breath, and your body may tense up.  Your thoughts might blank out, and your peripheral vision may narrow as your body prepares for fight or flight.  Your body doesn’t differentiate; it treats any threat as a threatening event.

On the other hand, feeling safe doesn’t mean you lack emotions or feel calm. Feeling calm and internally relaxed signifies safety, but it’s more than that.  When your nervous system is regulated, your emotions align with the situation. They’re not an extreme overreaction or underreaction. There’s congruence. If your emotional response matches the situation, your nervous system and brain feel safe.

That makes sense, but it’s not easy.  We’re trained to hide our emotions and always appear calm.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard and said, “Be a duck.  Calm on the surface and paddling like hell below it.”

And that is not congruent.  But congruence doesn’t mean you act out like a toddler, either.

Step one in creating safety is calming your nervous system by verbalizing your feelings. If you say, “This conversation is overwhelming for me. I need a break. Let me get some water,” you’re safe and regulated at that moment. There’s nothing wrong.

But when you can’t verbalize what you’re experiencing and freeze, that’s a sign you’re no longer in a safe state. Your body starts pumping cortisol and adrenaline, preparing for whatever it perceives as a threat.

Even if you feel overwhelmed, if you’re aware of that feeling and can take some breaths or a short break and return to the conversation, you’re in a safe, regulated state.

I can’t imagine admitting to feeling overwhelmed or asking for a break! Plus, I work with so many people who say, “I feel overwhelmed, but I can’t take a moment for myself.  I need to plow through and get this done.”

It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness. If you want to create safety and emotional intelligence, you must know what you’re feeling and be able to name it. You also need to sense what others are feeling and understand your emotional impact on them.

For example, if you say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now,” and I respond calmly and slow my cadence of speech, your nervous system receives the message that everything is okay.  However, if I’m in “fight or flight” mode and you’re overwhelmed, we’ll end up in a chaotic and unproductive cycle.

Self-awareness and understanding are essential to safety. Unfortunately, many organizations I speak with need help with this.

Amen, sister,


Stay tuned for next week’s exciting conclusion, 3 Steps to Building a Psychologically Safe Environment or The No-Cost, No-Hug Secret to Smarter Teams

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80% of Psychological Safety Has Nothing to Do With Psychology

or Why the Lack of Psychological Safety Makes You Dumber

80% of Psychological Safety Has Nothing to Do With Psychology

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

It’s been over 20 years since “Psychological Safety” exploded onto the scene and into the business lexicon.  But as good as it sounded, I always felt like it was one of those “safe space, everyone gets a trophy, special snowflake” things we had to do to make the Millennials (and subsequent generations) happy.

Then I read Alla Weinberg’s book, A Culture of Safety, and realized I was very, very wrong.

It’s not the equivalent of an HR-approved hug and high-five. 

It’s the foundation of what we do. Without it, there is no productivity, creativity, or progress.

Needing to know more, I reached out to Alla, who graciously agreed to teach me.


Thanks for speaking with me, Alla.  Let’s get right to the point: why should I, or any business leader, care about psychological safety?

The short answer is that without psychological safety, you are dumber.  When you feel unsafe, your operating IQ, which you use for daily tasks, drops in half.

Think about all the people you work with or all the people in your company.  They’re there because they’re smart, have experience, and demonstrated that they can do the job.  But then something goes wrong, and you wonder why they didn’t anticipate it or plan appropriately to avoid it.  You start to question their competence when, in fact, it may be that they feel unsafe, so parts of their brain have gone offline.  Their operating IQ isn’t operating at 100%.

I am so guilty of this.  When things go wrong, I assume someone didn’t know what to do, so they need to be trained, or they did know what to do and decided not to do it. It never occurs to me that there could be something else, something not logical, going on.

We all forget that human beings are biological creatures, and survival is the number one evolutionary trait for all living beings. Our body and mind are wired to ensure our continued existence.

A part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning, executive thought, and analysis – is unique to humans, and it goes offline when our body feels unsafe. 

When we experience extreme stress, our body and mind cannot distinguish an impending deadline from a lunging tiger.  Our body and mind prioritize survival, so we experience all the biological responses to a threat, like getting tunnel vision, losing peripheral vision, and perceiving limited options.

So, when you’re trying to meet a deadline, and your manager or supervisor asks why you didn’t consider alternatives or complete a specific task, it’s because you physically couldn’t think of it at that moment. This is how human beings operate.

My first reaction is to wonder who can’t tell the difference between a deadline and a tiger because if you can’t tell the difference between the two, you may have bigger problems.  But when you mentioned the inability to perceive options, I immediately thought of something that happened yesterday.

I was on a call with a client, someone I’ve worked with for years and consider a friend, and we were trying to restructure a program to serve their client’s needs better.  I didn’t feel under threat…

Consciously.  You didn’t consciously feel under threat.

Right, I didn’t feel consciously under threat. But I froze.  I absolutely couldn’t think.  I put my head in my hands and tried to block out all the light and the noise, and I still couldn’t think of any option other than what we were already doing.  My brain came to a screeching halt.

That’s your nervous system, and it’s a huge driver of psychological safety.  80% of the information our brain receives comes from our nervous system.  So, while you didn’t consciously feel unsafe, your body felt unsafe and sent a signal to your brain to go into survival mode, and your brain chose to freeze.

But it was a Zoom call.  I was sitting alone in my office. I wasn’t unsafe.  Why would my nervous system think I was unsafe?

Your nervous system doesn’t think. It perceives and reacts.  Let me give you a simple illustration that we’ve all experienced.  When you touch something hot, your hand immediately pulls away.  You say “ouch” after your hand is away from the heat source.  When you felt the hot object, your nervous system entered survival mode and pulled away your hand.  Your brain then had to catch up, so you saw “Ow” after the threat was over.

Hold up.  We’re talking about psychological safety.  What does my nervous system have to do with this?

I define psychological safety as a state of our nervous system with three states: safe, mobilized (fight or flight), and immobilized (freeze response). The tricky part is not psychological but neurobiological. You cannot think your way to safety or unfreeze yourself. The rational mind has no control over this. Mantras and mindsets won’t make you feel safe; it’s a neurobiological process.

That is a plot twist I did not see coming.


Stay tuned for Part 2:

How to Use Your Nervous System to Feel Psychologically Safe, or “Why Mandating a Return to the Office Destroys Safety”

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Hire for Diversity and Empathy to Drive Innovation

Hire for Diversity and Empathy to Drive Innovation

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

One of the questions I get asked quite often, both at conferences and when coaching executives, is what type of personality is best suited for innovation so that they can optimize their hiring. Are technical people better than non-technical people? Introverts better than extroverts? Is it better to hire foxes or hedgehogs?

The first thing I tell them is that there has been no definitive research that has found that any specific personality type contributes to innovation. In fact, in my research I have found that there is not even a particular kind of company. If you look at IBM, Google and Amazon, for example, you’ll find that they innovate very differently.

The second thing I point out is that every business needs something different. For example, Steve Jobs once noted that since Apple had always built integrated products, it never learned how to partner as effectively as Microsoft and he wished it would have. So the best approach to hiring for innovation is to seek out those who can best add to the culture you already have.

Foxes vs. Hedgehogs

In Good to Great, author Jim Collins invokes Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay about foxes and hedgehogs to make a point about management. “The fox,” Berlin wrote, “knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Collins then devotes an entire chapter to explaining why hedgehogs perform better than foxes.

Yet as Phil Rosenzweig points out in The Halo Effect, this is a highly questionable conclusion. Even if it were true that the most successful companies focus on one core skill or one core business, that doesn’t mean that focusing on “one big thing” will make you more successful. What it probably means is that by betting on just one thing you increase your chances of both success and failure.

Think about what would have happened it Apple had said, “we’re going to focus just on computers” or if Amazon had focused on just books. There is also evidence, most notably from Philip Tetlock, that foxes outperform hedgehogs on certain tasks, like making judgments about future events.

So the best strategy would probably be to hire a fox if you’re a hedgehog and to hire a hedgehog if you’re a fox. In other words, If you like to drill down and focus on just one thing, make sure you have people around that can help you integrate with other skills and perspectives. If you like to dabble around, make sure you have people who can drill down.

Introverts vs Extroverts

We tend to see leaders as brash and outgoing, but my colleague at Inc, Jessica Stillman points out that introverts can also make great leaders. They tend to be better listeners, are often more focused and are better prepared than social butterflies are. Those are great qualities to look for when adding someone to add to your team.

Still, you wouldn’t want to have an entire company made up of introverts and, in Social Physics, MIT’s Sandy Pentland explains why. Perhaps more than anything else, innovation needs combination. So it’s important to have people who can help you connect to other teams, both internally and externally, bring in new ideas and help take you in new directions.

Consider Amazon, a company that is not only incredibly successful but also highly technically sophisticated. You might expect that it hires a lot of introverted engineers and I’m sure that’s true. Yet the skill it is most focused on is writing, because it understands that to create a successful product, you need to get a lot of diverse people to work together effectively.

So much like with foxes and hedgehogs, if you’re an introvert you should make sure that you have extroverts that can help you connect and if you are an extrovert, make sure you have people who can focus and listen.

Technical vs. Non-Technical People

By all accounts, Steve Jobs was never more than a mediocre engineer, but was clearly a legendary marketer. Nevertheless, he felt strongly that technical people should be in charge. As he once told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, in an interview:

“I have my own theory about why the decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The product starts valuing the great salesmen, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company.”

Yet the story is not nearly as clear cut as Jobs makes it out to be. When IBM hit hard times it was Lou Gerstner, who spent his formative professional years as a management consultant, that turned it around. Steve Ballmer clearly made missteps as CEO of Microsoft, particularly in mobile, but also made the early investments in cloud technology led to Microsoft’s comeback.

So much like with foxes vs. hedgehogs and introverts vs. extroverts, the choice between technical and non-technical people is a false one. Far more important is how you build a culture in which people of varied skills and perspective can work closely together with a shared sense of purpose.

Today, as we enter a new era of innovation, organizations will need a far more diverse set of skills than ever before and building a collaborative culture will be key to success.

Collaboration Is The New Competitive Advantage

Over the past few decades, the digital revolution has shaped much of our thinking about how we advance a business. Digital technology required a relatively narrow set of skills, so hiring people adept at those skills was a high priority. Yet now, the digital era is ending and we need to rethink old assumptions.

Over the next decade, new computing architectures like quantum and neuromorphic computing will rise to the fore. Other fields, such as genomics and materials science are entering transformative phases. Rather than living in a virtual world, we’ll be using bits to drive atoms in the physical world.

That will change how we need to innovate. As Angel Diaz of IBM told me a few years back, “…we need more than just clever code. We need computer scientists working with cancer scientists, with climate scientists and with experts in many other fields to tackle grand challenges and make large impacts on the world.”

That’s why today collaboration is becoming a real competitive advantage and we need to focus far less on specific skills and “types” and far more on getting people with diverse skills, backgrounds and perspectives to work together effectively.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and an earlier version appeared on Inc.com
— Image credit: Unsplash

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