Want to innovate? It's the small things

"and then Nigel said...'no I want the largest coffee you have'."

"and then Nigel said...'no I want the largest coffee you have'."

Imagine this: A hazardous chemical has entered the water supply. There is no way to get the poison out of the system, and no alternative sources of water. We know the poison will cause mild brain damage, but we can offset it by giving everyone a form of gene therapy (for the science geeks – it’s “somatic” – and cannot be passed on to their offspring).

10 years later, we find out the chemical is going to vanish from the water, allowing us to recover gradually from the brain damage. If we do nothing, then we will become more intelligent, since our permanent gene-enhancement will no longer be offset by the continuous poisoning.

So, smarty-pants, would you undergo neurosurgery to keep your intelligence at the status quo?


But as a consequence, you, me, everyone will be wandering around with super-brains. Since it’s good if there is no poison in the water supply, then it’s also good in a scenario in which the water was never poisoned.

What if there was no water problem? What if I had suggested that we all have gene therapy to become smarter?

Does that feel different? Why is that?

The scenario above is thought experiment - an example of a “double reversal”  . It’s a good way to think about a problem when you’re trying to shift people away from the status quo.

The status quo FEELS good. It feels comfortable. So how do you break yourself and others out off the habit?

In essence, imagine that the new option you’re trying assess IS reality. Then try to argue AWAY from it and towards your current reality.

Marketing heads: Imagine you allocate 100% of your advertising spend to digital and social media, and have a full-time content creation team. Then try to argue for spending 70% of your budget on print and traditional media instead (or whatever it currently is).

Finance gurus: Imagine you’re invested 60% in emerging market equities in your pension fund. Now try to argue for switching to what you're invested in now. Or, imagine you sold everything you owned yesterday and now just have cash. Would you buy back what you used to have?

Everyone else: Imagine you’re doing the job of your dreams, living the life you want.

Now make the argument for stopping that, to work in a job like your real one and live your current life.

The status quo is so ingrained in us. We have an emotional preference for the current state of affairs. Think about these phrases:

“Better the devil you know (than the devil you don’t)”

“Leave well alone”

“Let sleeping dogs lie”

and, of course:

Mighty Meaty Pizza (would you really add ALL of those toppings if they weren’t presented as a default?)

Inertia is our enemy. Inertia, and cake, in my case.

This week I imagined I was a super-fit person who goes to the gym 3 days a week, and then tried to argue for being a lazy git instead. I lost that argument.

What do you want to change? If you want to motivate others to think about something new, paint them a vivid picture that shows the new idea in all its glorious reality, and then get them to argue away from it.

Let me know how it goes.


Hannah LewisComment