Change isn’t comfortable. We’re all naturally wired to be afraid of change at least to some degree—it’s our brains trying to protect us. It’s a breach of trust to our brains, and it has the instant effect of stress. Anything new is a risk, it’s just that some people have become less risk-averse than others, and are able to see the benefits of pushing the limits of their comfort zones. These people are the innovators—they know that on the other side of change an innovation is usually great reward.
The sentiment of the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is sometimes discarded in the innovation process, replacing features that people already like in favor of innovative solutions. Now, this often works out, with new features improving on the old concept, but changes can also have the opposite effect as well. People often become worried about changes actually making a process worse instead of better. This is a valid concern—just look at the case of Strongbow Cider, which switched formulas in the US in 2014, alienating customers all over the country who preferred the old formula. Innovation needs to be paired with caution, research, and common sense to be successful, and many people are skeptical of trying to improve on something customers already appreciate.
Many executives or organizational leaders are difficult to get on board with innovation, because change might make them feel threatened. It’s easy to feel like your boss has the final say and zero consequences, there’s usually a great deal of pressure on executives from shareholders. They could be feeling threatened by change, and are afraid they might be replaced as changes come sweeping through the office.
Many people who are averse to innovation are simply more inclined to logic than creativity. Being comfortable with innovation usually means you have a lot of imaginative ideas, and aren’t afraid to test them out. Everyone has a different skill set, and some people just don’t think as creatively as others.
Understandably, some people are cautious about innovation. Mistakes can be costly, and while failure is part of the innovation process, diving in full speed can lead to massive losses. Those who are cautious may not be uncomfortable with innovation itself, just with the speed of progress and change. Maybe a particular idea doesn’t serve the organization currently, but will in the future. It pays to have a little caution in innovation, as long as this caution doesn’t stymie creativity.
Failure is a normal part of the innovation process, but many people refuse to accept that fact. Instead, they put unreasonable expectations on innovations and innovators, or simply avoid new ideas altogether. No one is exempt from the failure aspect of innovation—many big companies had some famous innovations that failed, including Pepsi, Ford, and even Apple. These companies had products that flopped hard for various reasons: the target market wasn’t defined, the product was too expensive, the idea was too off-brand—there are so many reasons innovations don’t work out. Creative people just have to accept that not all ideas work out, which is difficult for some.
While it’s easy to get frustrated with people who aren’t innovative or creative when you’re bursting with ideas, it’s very important to learn how to work with them. These folks bring a lot to the table, just in a different way from innovators. Besides needing to work with executives, such as a COO, who are concerned about innovation efforts, you need to have everyone on the ground level on board too—that’s what makes for a strong culture. While you may not make everyone around you truly comfortable with the idea of change, it’s important not to dismiss their concerns—simply try to understand them and work together to come up with an agreeable compromise on innovation issues.
By Ryan Ayers