This technique is commonly used as a tool for innovation. Known as “Erroneous or reverse thought”, the concept is to intentionally think of the worst possible idea or solution for a problem, as a starting point from which to build the best possible idea or solution.
This article published in HBR.org cites a textbook example of this technique by biochemist Frederick Sanger, responsible for one of the most important breakthroughs in human genome research.
Instead of breaking DNA chains for sequencing, he decided to build them first in an exercise of reverse thinking that brought him his second Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980.
The example shows how, at least during an initial phase of the innovation process, every idea counts. Even those that may seem implausible beforehand, as they can offer truly disruptive solutions underneath the surface [find out how to attract a wide range of ideas from the collectives you choose].
That said, not all organizations are willing to use resources to listen to and collect all types of ideas. For some organizations, doing so would take the focus away from the goal at hand. Even if the above example shows precisely that this process can be the first step towards finding the perfect approach.
Speaking of barriers, a silo mentality and a restricted conception of innovation, limited to a small group of people, are some of the most common enemies of innovation. Particularly within larger companies, where idea generation is usually limited to very specific profiles and a hierarchical blueprint based on a vertical framework, from the top down.
By making innovation democratic, however, its effects are extended to the organization’s entire structure, giving it a greater innovative bite and a growing appetite for new ideas.
In this respect, HBR’s article presents three principles that sum up the competitive advantages of making innovation democratic. Here they are:
– “The beginner has many opportunities; the expert has few”. This proverb by Zen master Shunryu Suzuki summarizes how someone approaching a new discipline (innovation in this case) pays greater attention and is more motivated because he or she is faced with a larger learning curve. Also, his or her ideas are normally not affected by the organization’s traditionalculture and can be more disruptive.
– “Nothing better than a bird’s eye view to see the full path”. Listening to others, especially in large organizations, gives you a global picture of the company itself and its future challenges. But one must also evaluate each of the pieces that make it up. By doing so, one may detect key players, allow them greater responsibilities, and transform them into superheroesin problem resolution.
– “These superheroes who know nothing of hierarchies…”. People with this kind of superpowers can be found throughout the organization, from managers to trainees. Besides, excellence is not always dependent on qualification, but it normally does rely on the performance of employees, and especially their motivation.
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