What assumptions are influencing your decisions?

Every day our brain processes hundreds of thousands of bits of information. It unconsciously categorizes and formats the information into familiar patterns. Someone’s gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, body size, profession etc., all influence the snap decisions that we make about them and the basis of the relationships we form with them. Unconscious bias is often subtle and unnoticed, and we all do it. 


Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level. Our subconscious brain can process information much faster than our conscious brain. Our quick decisions are made in our subconscious based on societal and parental conditioning.

Bias exists. It’s part of the human condition. All of us have it and it colours our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realising.

We all have bias

Our bias is made up of all our experiences including our upbringing, those we socialise with and the media we consume. We can’t help but have bias. The important thing is to acknowledge that you, me and everyone has bias and then understanding what that means and how to work with that knowledge. 

Know your biases

The first step is to start to become aware of what your biases are, and where they are most likely to appear. Start to notice your decisions. Challenge yourself by asking yourself ‘What assumptions did I make about this situation that might have influenced my decision?’ Another way is to take a test, for example, Harvard University has carried out research into unconscious bias and has released the Implicit Association Test to help people identify their biases.

We can hold biases about many different things

Biases manifest themselves in a number of different ways. Some of them are more positive than others.

Affinity bias is where we’re more likely to treat someone favourably because they remind us of ourselves.

Safety bias is where we’re pre-programmed to make the choices which feel safest to us. That might be the route we take from the station late at night, or choosing the same recruiter we’ve always used to hire into a role in our team or sticking to innovating. In times of uncertainty our safety bias can be heightened.

‘Halo or horns effect’ is where you let something particularly positive or negative that someone has said to you shape your entire perception of them.

Confirmation bias is that lovely human tendency of filtering out everything apart from the evidence which backs up your existing opinions.

Perception bias is the tendency to believe one thing about a group of people based on stereotypes and assumptions, making it impossible to be objective about individuals.

Group think is the tendency to try too hard to fit into an existing culture and holding back thoughts or opinions, resulting in the loss of identity, creativity and innovation.


What might you do about bias?

Start to notice and check yourself. This isn’t about being judgemental about your bias, just start to recognise them and get into the habit of asking yourself, ‘what bias is at play in the decisions I’m making?

For example, if you’re looking for someone to work on a key project, think really carefully about what that person needs to be able to do. Challenge yourself to think objectively. Write a list of what you’re looking for in a candidate, and then USE that list to make an objective decision about who the right person for the job is, using evidence rather than an unconscious bias snap decision.

A great way of dismantling your biases is to spend as much time as you can with people who are completely different to you, with different skills, experience, background and biases. When you understand more about each other’s approaches it helps you to work together more effectively to make your good ideas happen.

Over the years, I’ve worked with many organisations, teams and individuals to help them develop better strategies for creativity and innovation. What I’ve discovered is that new technology can help facilitate innovation, that a well-considered process can enable good ideas to become reality but the key ingredient to any successful innovation or change programme is people. And having a diverse mix of people matters.

If you’d like a tool to help you bypass your biases and improve your innovation success rate, take this 3 minute quiz with your team to identify your own innovation style and the style mix of your team members.


Did you you know that innovation penguins are special. They are charming team players. They are valuable in helping others to build on ideas.

Are you a penguin? Do you have any penguins in your team?
Do the 3 minute quiz and find out what innovation animal you are.

 

Innovation for introverts

Innovation for introverts

I know it might be surprising that I’m an introvert and that I feel like this, given I run training on networking and I lead the Lucidity Network (which involves networking). Perhaps the reason I do both of these things is because I know how important networking is to pretty much everything and also how difficult it can be, so I just want to make it as easy and pain-free as possible for people.

I define introversion and extroversion as where you get your energy from. As an introvert, I get my energy from being by myself. Extroverts get their energy from other people. You’re not stuck in an introvert or extrovert box though. It’s like a spectrum. I sit towards the middle of the introvert side of the spectrum, and I can switch on my inner extrovert when needed, for example, if I’m at a conference, running training or presenting. I just have to go home afterwards and be on my own to refuel.

One isn’t better than the other, it’s just useful to understand your own preferences and those of the people you work with so you can adapt your communication to get the best out of both introverts and extroverts.

Here’s what I learnt over the years of working on innovation:

When it comes to innovation introverts come into their own.

  • They have no need for external affirmation
  • They make order out of chaos
  • They are the best listeners
  • They connect disparate dots that may save the business.

It’s estimated that between a third and a half of the population is introverted. However, there’s a cultural bias towards extroversion. This means that workplace cultures and practices are often set up in favour of extroverts, the people that speak up first or loudest, the people that are seen to be participating and who are well known in an organisation.

To get better results make sure you are engaging both introverts and extroverts.

Here’s how;

Often it’s just the loudest people that get listened to. If you manage a team make sure you make space for introverts to be heard. This takes the form of great facilitation and good planning, for example, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to speak in meetings and structuring ideas sessions with some tasks that people can do on their own.

  • A web-based platform or community is a good way to solicit ideas from everyone. 
  • Offer quiet zones at work especially if you work in an open plan office.
  • Encourage introverts to lead, chair meetings, present on topics, lead projects.
  • Become aware of the loudest voices, encourage them but do not allow them to be the only voice that is heard.

Let me know how you get on and if you want to learn more about this, then join us for this upcoming online networking event.

On Thursday 9 July, Helen Denny from Not9to5 and I, we’ll be hosting a learning and social experience on how to succeed as an introvert in an extroverted world. We’ve invited Emma Taggart, a leadership coach for introverts to help us understand the different needs of introverts and extroverts. She’ll share how to succeed as an introvert as well as support the introverts around you.

Reserve your place for this online networking event. Tickets are £10.
introvert networking event

Here’s the link to buy your ticket 

 

You are creative (whether you believe it or not)

Creativity

Over the years I’ve asked 1000’s of people whether they think they’re creative. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, the response is always the same.

If I ask the creative people to put their hands up most of the room look away, or at their phones. A handful of people sheepishly half put their hands up. About 1% of the room proudly shove their arm up in the air and ‘admit’ to being ‘creative’.

Somehow, creativity has become the territory of the ‘creative people’. Why are so many of us embarrassed to admit that we might be creative?

Whether you believe it or not you are creative. Creativity is not about whether you can draw or paint. Creativity is about making connections and putting old ideas together to create something new. And creativity is fundamentally about solving problems.

Maybe if I asked ‘how many of you are good at solving problems?’ I’d get a different response.

Creativity can often be perceived as ‘fluffy’ or a ‘nice to have’. This is a flawed perspective because creativity is an important survival strategy. Changing demographics, increased competition, economic and political uncertainty and advances in technology are just some of the factors that affect every individual and organisation on the planet.

Today, organisations must be creative in the way they respond to the changing needs of their customers, clients, colleagues and the market environment or they will not survive.

How we access our creativity is different for all of us. The majority of us don’t have our best ideas when we are at work, stressed at our desks or put under pressure by our manager to ‘think outside the box’.

That’s because, for the vast majority of people, creativity isn’t something that we can simply switch on. Most of us have our best ideas when we are relaxed or in a playful state or with time to properly think. Often the best ideas happen when people talk, build on each others ideas, have time to ponder and collaborate to solve a shared problem.

Whilst all human beings are inherently creative, the way our brains process information can sometimes inhibit our creativity.

Our ways of thinking become more ingrained as we get older. Every experience we have reinforces our established neural pathways. This makes it harder to deviate from what we know, and think creatively – or from a different perspective.

I recently heard an analogy that our neural pathways are like roads. When we’re young they start as meandering pathways that can merge and criss cross. Then, as we get older we favour certain paths and those pathways get more ingrained. We form habits. Our thinking travels those established pathways more and they become more engrained. Those meandering pathways become super highways which are very hard to deviate from. If you’ve ever done anything on ‘auto-pilot’ you’ve experienced this.

And when we’re on auto pilot we’re not questioning anything, not challenging the ‘way things are done here’, not looking for better solutions and not thinking creatively. That’s why, despite being naturally creative animals, we need to practice our creativity and keep our neural pathways open to new ideas. We need to slow down, make time to ponder keep the meandering pathways accessible, enable connections between old and new, allow for exploration and different thinking. We must learn to challenge ourselves to keep off the superhighways of ‘how we do things here’ and keep making new connections and having new ideas and solving problems.

So practically, how do we improve our creative thinking and problem solving skills? What do you actually need to do?

I’m glad you asked. If you’d like to improve your creative thinking and problem solving skills then join the Lucidity Network as we often talk about and create online events focusing on how you can build your creativity skills to get better results in your work. Here’s more information about the Lucidity Network and how to join.

The secret innovation skills you need – that are rarely taught

Wake up, kick ass, repeat

The balance of secret innovation skills, attitude and experience you require depends a bit on what innovation means to your organisation. Sometimes you need to be a product development manager, sometimes a culture change manager, more often both, and on occasion, once you’re in post it’s for you to interpret what the organisation needs and what the senior leadership want – which are often different things. Then there’s the innovation brief that makes my heart sink, ‘we want to innovate and change and disrupt – but we want to be sure it will work’, setting an innovation manager an impossible challenge from the outset.

Sound familiar?

However you choose to approach innovation in your business two things are consistent regardless of what sector or industry you work in.

  • Innovation is about spotting an unmet need or solving a problem. It’s about generating ideas and implementing solutions to make life better for your target audience (and that might be customers, clients and employees).
  • Not all of your ideas or innovations will work.

This means that an innovation manager has to be a lot of things; a diplomat and a dictator, a negotiator with a bloody-minded streak, an ideas person and a completer-finisher, a business analyst and a dreamer, candid and kind, a risk taker who likes a safe bet and possess both gravitas and humility.

The secret skills of innovation are often at opposite ends of a spectrum. You have to be well versed in contrast and contradictions and be able to flex between them in a blink of an eye.

Here are my top tips to thrive in the contradictory role of an innovation manager;

1.   Exude confidence in your approach and also confident vulnerability about what you don’t know. Help people to feel comfortable with diving into the unknown. Help people to learn that it’s OK not to know the answers, and that is part of ‘doing innovation.’

2.   Get a chronic case of ‘toddler syndrome’ and keep asking ‘why?’. Don’t settle for the ‘way things are done here’. Challenge ‘the way we do things here’ at every opportunity and help others to do the same.

3. Become very self-aware, what assumptions or stories do you have that prevent you from doing something new? Keep challenging yourself as well as others to unlearn what you know. Ask, ‘What if we had to start from zero – what might we do differently?’

4.   Be charming and disagreeable. Open up discussions, encourage different points of view and alternative ways of thinking, and do it in a way that others find enchanting.

5.   Take innovation very seriously and also not seriously at all at the same time. You’re looking for an important breakthrough which is serious business, yet our best thinking occurs when we are relaxed and even more so when we’re in a playful mindset.

6.   Be sensitive and thick-skinned – sensitive to the needs of your colleagues and partners. Remember that many people fear change, so tune into and be mindful about how your colleagues are feeling, yet at the same time focus on the needs of your audience, the people that you are innovating for, which sometimes means forging on through despite everything if you are going to deliver on your brief.

7.   Fall deeply in love and be fickle – to innovate, to introduce something new, you have to fall in love to have the passion to keep going to overcome barriers when things get difficult (because things will get difficult). You also have to be fickle and prepared to fail fast and drop your idea if it doesn’t work.

8.   Move fast and slow – turn your ideas into reality as quickly as you can. Don’t wait for perfect and a big launch, involve your stakeholders and your customers as early as possible which can sometimes slow down progress but the insight you gain will be worth the reduction of speed.

9.   Smile, (even if inside you are crying) and be respected for making good decisions and getting the job done rather than being known for being ‘nice’.

10. It’s OK to cry, to be vulnerable and for the idea not to work. The important thing is to share why not and what next so that everyone involved can learn.

11. Focus on why making change happen is important and lead by example. Help to shift the organisational culture to help people have the courage to try, followed by the tenacity to learn from failure and give it another go.

Those secret innovation skills are often called soft skills. They are rarely taught, they are skills that you learn by trial and error, and that are hard to articulate on a job application. These are the skills that make you a successful innovator. At Lucidity we run training, provide coaching and consultancy on the ‘soft’ skills you and your organisation require to succeed at innovation. If you’d like some help perfecting them then get in touch at hello@lucidity.org.uk.

You might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

Why watching this movie can help solve your staffing problems…

Like many millions of others, this weekend was planned around a cinema trip to see Avengers: Endgame – the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But as well as the usual dose of superhero satisfaction, I came away thinking how Kevin Feige could teach us more than a thing or two about how to build and retain successful teams.

Feige is the President of Marvel Studios, who in the last 10 years has released 22 hit films grossing over $16billion – the highest grossing film series of all time[1].  This, from a franchise that spent previous decades hovering on the brink between limited success and failure.  Who recalls the 1986 Marvel ‘classic’ Howard the Duck which lost $21m after being panned by the people that mattered, the fans, despite being produced by a living film legend – George Lucas! Or 2003’s Daredevil which was considered so disappointing, its leading star Ben Affleck said: “[Batman’s] the movie I want to do. I want to be a part of that…I hate Daredevil so much”[2]

So from a struggling company, to a stellar performer: what on earth (or if we are seriously embracing the MCU), what on the ‘multi-verse’ has Feige done to drive this sort of turnaround, that we too can learn from?

Plan ahead…

Back in 2007, when my daughter was still trying to choose between Tinky-Winky and La-La and hadn’t even heard of superhero’s, Kevin Feige had a plan for how exactly she (and millions of other teens) were going to spend this weekend. Before the first Iron Man film had made a penny, Feige had planned out not just the next two or three movies, but a decade of interwoven narrative across all 22 films and hit TV series. His plan embraced the existing cohort of superhero movie watchers from 2007, and the future generations of film goers who could be tempted into to MCU.

And isn’t this the job of every great manager? You are employed to see the bigger picture, to know where you’re going, to plan the staffing and skills you’ll need not just now, but for the organisation you want to become.  I’ve seen plenty of organisations with a three-year or five-year plan, but how many organisations do you know with a ten-year plan?  Not many.  And of these forward looking few, how many have a clearly defined staffing plan built into this vision of the successful teams of the future?  Well, I’m struggling to think of one (though excited to talk to you if this is how you are planning!).  Yet, we all accept that our staff are usually our most expensive asset, and the defining difference between success and failure.  And still we tend to have better long-term plans for the office furniture than we do for staff development.

So isn’t it time to learn from Feige, to start planning 10 years out for what we think our people will be doing.  And of course the plan will flex and change along the way, but that doesn’t change the need for a long-term vision. If you are just focussed on your staffing needs today, you’ll never be ready to deliver a future vision.

Be a superfan…

Yes we all know it is possible to just turn up and do the job: no heart, soul or passion required…but why would you want to? If you aren’t invested in what you do emotionally then why would your staff be! Kevin Feige has made no secret that he is a HUGE fanboy. He has been preparing to be President of Marvel Studios from the moment he first sneaked his torch into bed to read comics after lights out. This is a man who still collects the ticket stubs from every film he goes to. He LOVES what he does and this passion is infectious. Many of the A-listers who have become part of the MCU reference Feige’s passion for the project as a key draw:

“When I found that out about him, and seeing the familiar excitement and inner light that comes from a huge fan speaking about how much they love the whole magical world…that really speaks a lot to who he is…I was like YES!” – Scarlett Johansson[3]

Those of us lucky enough to have experienced being led by someone with passion have seen how it injects energy in successful teams and motivates everyone to be their best.  And with staff identifying ‘belief in what we do’ as a key management skill; it isn’t just about getting the right people, it’s about getting them to stay.  It’s said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad bosses and the research backs this up: 61% of those defining their relationship with their boss as ‘bad’ are actively looking to leave this year[4].  So, if you want to attract and keep the top talent in your industry, then try communicating your passion for what you do. If some of your staff don’t share it, fine, these are the ones who are likely to move on anyway.

Don’t plan around the hero’s you don’t have…

By the time Feige started to design the MCU many of the rights to its key characters had been sold off years before when Marvel was in financial trouble. So he faced the prospect of trying to build the most successful movie franchise ever, with a load of second tier characters. But rather than focus on what he didn’t have, Feige put his energy into those he did:

“Yeah, the “B-list characters”… I never really thought that because I knew that Iron Man was really cool and Hulk was arguably, next to Spider-Man, the biggest character we had. The goal was…to make the best Iron Man film we could, and make the best version of Hulk.” Feige [5]

Feige is sharing with us one of the most important lessons here: whatever the quality of the team you have, these are the people you’ve got. Moaning about needing great staff in order to make your targets isn’t going to help. Instead focus on how to make your team great. So, your task as a manager is to work out where to put your energy. Which team members may not be at the top right now but have the potential, or the right attitude, and with training and effort could be your superstars? Investing your time in them now can give you an extraordinary return down the line. And if there are people in the team who are never going to deliver then don’t ignore it.  Do something about it, because whilst performance management is no one’s idea of fun, moving on might be their opportunity to find a role they love and your chance to recruit a new star.

Focus on the individual 

All MCU fans have a favourite ‘origin story’, the films where we are introduced to a character and watch them develop their superpowers.  For Feige it’s Black Panther, but the point is he puts time, love and attention into every origin story.  This is no mean feat when you remember he has been holding that ten-year plan in his head throughout.  He knows where the whole over-arching story is going, yet he has time to focus on each individual character’s storyline, and how they develop over time.  And this is the point; each character is allowed to individually develop within the Marvel universe.  They make mistakes.  They learn. They become better superheros. As Feige says: “I was never cynical about sequels…I was always excited to see how characters I loved would grow and change”[6]

Feige knows it’s important because fans care about this sort of detail.  The little things matter.  And that’s just as true for our staff.  Yes, they want to be part of a great team and contribute to a massive organisational vision.  But they also want to know you can pick them out in a line-up.  So make sure you know the detail; remember to praise individually, comment if they’ve tried to do something new – even if it’s not been successful or everyone else finds it easy – recognise the effort of the individual.  And invest in each person, don’t try and squeeze them into some HR driven organisational development plan that sets out what and when they can learn.  Work out what works for them…and remember it.

A team is stronger together…

Embedded within the MCU are the much-loved ensemble films: the Avenger series where characters across the MCU come together to fight a common enemy.  Those new to the franchise might struggle to keep up when viewing one of these ensemble movies.  They are fast paced with a cast of (what seems like) thousands all of whom seem to be leads and have story arcs that impact on the final resolution.  But what might seem confusing from the outside is actually a team effectively integrating under pressure to deliver a positive outcome.

One of my bosses (a huge Marvel fan) would often call an: “Avengers Assemble”. This was our organisational shorthand for the need for the team to come together to jointly tackle an urgent situation. Sometimes this was a real organisational crisis, sometimes it was when one team member needed the support of others. But it was a recognition of the strength of bringing the team together; uniting the individual skills and talents that each member of your team has into a superhero problem solving squad.  So whether you see yourself as a Kevin Feige or a Nick Fury[7], what are you doing to get your staff to pull together towards a common goal?

And accept the Endgame…

So Feige’s plan always includes an ending, and Avengers: Endgame is it (though for hardcore MCU fans I’m aware this is actually the end of phase three). The end of a 10-year journey, and saying goodbye to some much-loved characters (can’t say who as Thanos has demanded my silence!). Like all great managers, Feige knows that the strongest successful teams have change and growth built into them. When you are surrounded by fantastic high performing staff you should be planning what happens next – ensure successions plans are in place for everyone.  So if a key staff member is ready to leave you can afford to be gracious. Accept this phase has come to an end and help them move on successfully – if you do they will become advocates for you and your organisation, making the next round of recruitment tons easier.

But it’s never really over…

Feige has already started to reveal highlights from his next five-year plan. It includes new superheros, plenty more special effects and probably many more box-office breaking films. This type of long-term success doesn’t happen by chance. It comes from long-term thinking and planning, staff investment and development, doing the day-job but never forgetting that your team are looking to you to help them see (and be inspired) by the future.

So if you are looking for some help with your staffing issues and building successful teams, why not channel a bit of Marvel this week?  There are 22 good films I could recommend…

 

Vanessa Longley has worked in Fundraising and Communications for over 20 years and is currently researching creative leadership in the charity sector. Her favourite Marvel movie is Doctor Strange.

 


[1] Williams, Trey (6 May 2018). “How Marvel Became a $16 Billion Franchise: Fandom, Cribbing From Comics and Kevin Feige. TheWrap.

[2] Mccluskey, Megan (14 December, 2016). “Ben Affleck on hating Daredevil”. Time Magazine

[3] Joanna Robinson (6th December, 2017). “An extended conversation with Kevin Feige” Vanity Fair.

[4] Barna Group (18th February, 2015).  “The different impact of good and bad leadership”.

[5] Joanna Robinson (6th December, 2017). “An extended conversation with Kevin Feige” Vanity Fair.

[6] Rianne Houghton (12th June, 2018). “Marvel Studio boss reveals best MCU films”. DigitalSpy

[7] For non MCU nerds, Fury is the head of a secretive government sanctioned organisation SHIELD forming strategic alliances with superheros to protect the planet and our current existence.  I could go on…but it’s probably best I don’t!