In my earlier blog I wrote about the eternal fight between urgent and important. I will dwell more on the topic and this time refer to the May 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review, where the main article was Managing your Innovation Portfolio by Bansi Nagi and Geoff Tuff. They showed that the optimum balance for long term profit was to have a ratio between Core activities (i.e. Incremental Innovation, Adjacent Activities and finally Transformational Activities, i.e. Breakthrough Innovation) of 10:20:70. Instead we focus on short term profit where optimum ratio is the reverse 70:20:10. Why is it often so hard for someone to act in a way that favors long term rewards and instead he/she mainly chooses short term rewards instead? It does not seem logical…why is he/she irrational? I got help to solve this issue from the book Switch by the brothers Chip & Dan Heath.
In trying to understand why we act in a predictably irrational way, we can use simplifying metaphors depicting different parts of our brain. Here a mahout (=elephant driver) is the metaphor for the reflective system of the brain, what we used to call the left and logical part of the brain (although we now know that this system involves several parts of the brain, not only those in the left part – we keep this somewhat erroneous simplification. It is easier to comprehend than Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and 2 in his book Thinking Fast and Slow). The elephant then is the metaphor for the right and automatic system of the brain, what we use to call the emotional brain part. The jungle path then symbolizes the environment/situation we are in.
The mahout is the logical planner but the elephant has the main energy and strength and is the real doer. The weakness of the elephant is short term thinking and following the easy road – whereas the mahout can work for a long while waiting for a big reward later, the elephant needs immediate rewards….NOW. Looking at the brain where the left part is small in terms of real power in comparison with the right part helps us to understand why sometimes it is so hard to persist in doing something that we logically know is right, but so hard to keep on doing over time. Here some tricks to succeed:
For change to happen that promotes innovation it is wiser to address the right brain than the left. Use “see-feel-change” instead of “analyze-think-change.”
By Bengt Järrehult
Bengt Järrehult is Fellow Scientist Innovation at SCA, a global hygiene products and paper company. He is also adjunct professor and visiting professor resp. at 2 departments of Lund University in Sweden. He is an avid reader of and presenter on the topics of innovation, especially on breakthrough innovation and the psychological hurdles that exist to achieve this, hurdles that we may or may not be aware of. He is of the opinion that most companies more or less know what to do to become more innovative. What they don’t know is what really hinders them from doing these measures…