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Innovative Thinking Stymied by Unspoken Boundaries

Innovative Thinking Stymied by Unspoken Boundaries

Are you aware of the unspoken boundaries you create around your stated desire for innovative thinking?I received an RFP for an organization hoping to stimulate holistic thinking among their employees. They were interested in holistic thinkers who could see beyond the obvious. People who could detect patterns for new insights. 

Unspoken Boundaries to Innovative ThinkingAs I read their request, I saw they were unaware of the unspoken boundaries even this request for holistic thinking training telegraphed. Unfortunately, this is not unusual. The challenge leaders face is most work cultures create unspoken boundaries to innovative thinking.

Here is a quote from their training proposal request.

Do you see any language that signals this mission is dead on arrival?

“Prepare leaders to possess systematic, holistic thinking ability including the ability to analyze environmental changes. Executives should be able to express reasonable doubts at appropriate times during policy planning so that relevant response plans can be adopted.”

Here is the request again. This time I’ll highlight what I think are the blindspots:

Prepare leaders to possess systematic, holistic thinking ability including the ability to analyze environmental changes. Executives should be able to express reasonable doubts at appropriate times during policy planning so that relevant response plans can be adopted.

On the surface this seems like a reasonable request from a company asking it’s employees to offer new solutions and new ideas. But the leaders making this request don’t understand conditions that support holistic thinking. Here’s what I mean.

What is holistic thinking? Holistic thinking happens when an individual senses the inner-connectedness and complex relationships that may exist in the larger ecosystem that they are a part of. www.Merriam-Webster.com describes it this way:

:relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts <holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body> <holistic ecology views humans and the environment as a single system>

Holistic, Innovative Thinking Is An Ecosystem Perspective.

When I read the request I felt dissonance from it because of the questions it immediately triggered in me.

Q: What is the likely hood that the folks attending this training will have the opportunity to actually engage a larger ecosystem?

If we start with what a holistic thinking mind set is, it’s to: be concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis

The implied directive in the request is for employees to: analyze environmental changes.

How do you analyze what you don’t see?

Do you see how confusing it might be for the employee to turn that analysis switch on and off?

  • How will their goals and objectives include time and accountability to explore the larger ecosystem?
  • Is the organization prepared to adopt transparency so that individuals have a comprehensive understanding of a complete internal picture?
  • What systems are in place so that folks have real time feedback from ALL stakeholders in the community they do business in?
  • How much time and resources will they have to explore what they sense is important… but outside the current metrics?
  • What happens when you dissect and select data points to analyze something that you don’t have a clear understanding of ? How do you uncover how pieces impact each other?

What other fear is present in this situation? “express reasonable doubts at appropriate times during policy planning”. If I’m that individual who has gone through the training, I’m thinking:

  • What does a reasonable doubt look like? What happens if I make a mistake in judgement?
  • How do we capture what happens outside of policy planning? What if it’s important and worth noticing now?
  • What’s our “appropriate” system for that?

Leaders must think holistically about their work culture to get why “training” for innovative thinking is not enough.

We craft job descriptions, short term goals and objectives that place people in boxes designed to execute efficiently….not explore beyond the organization’s limited view.

As a leader, how do you create an environment so individuals engage the ecosystem in it’s entirety?

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