How Can You Increase Performance Using Innovation?

Intuition is the use of patterns they’ve already learned, whereas insight is the discovery of new patterns.
— Gary Klein
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A small group of organisations are serious about increasing their performance using innovation. A larger group pay lip service to increasing their performance using innovation. Those that pay lip service are unaware of how their policies and practices can discourage innovation. What can discourage innovation? We explore some wisdom from the book, Seeing what others don't: The remarkable ways we gain insights by Gary Klein. Who?

Gary Klein is a living example of how useful applied psychology can be, when it’s done well.
— Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize Winner

Gary Klein specialises in how people make tough decisions under time pressure and uncertainty. When trying to improve performance in innovation , Gary recommends increasing insights and reducing errors. I suggest we can write this as an equation:

Performance = (Insights) - (Errors)

One common way to increase performance is to reduce errors, often by striving for perfection every time. This is great in theory. However, in practice at best this encourages people to keep doing things exactly how they always did them. They will not change. They will not get better. At worst, they discover a way of not making errors: do nothing.

In many cases, the problem isn’t about having or noticing insights; it is about acting on them. The organisation lacks the willpower to make changes.
— Gary Klein

Klein explains how obsessing about reducing mistakes prevents you getting personal insights or organisational insights. Klein discusses at length how hard it is to get organisations to obsess less about reducing errors. If we want to improve performance we must change, we must act, and we must make some mistakes. I think it was Einstein who said: A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.

When we put too much energy into eliminating mistakes, we’re less likely to gain insights. Having insights is a different matter from preventing mistakes.
— Gary Klein

One fast way to improve performance is to try more things and to make more mistakes. Imagine if we said to babies, don't try and walk until you can walk three metres in a straight line without falling? Contrast that with elite alpine ski racing. Skiers need to ski close to losing control, close to making a mistake. How do they do this? They push themselves so hard in practice that they make mistakes.

In business, we need to push our people and our organisations to take action, to make mistakes and to learn from mistakes. But surely making mistakes reduces performance? Yes, in the short term. But what happens when people and organisations take action. They discover much faster what is interfering with increasing performance. Once they are aware of what's interfering - physical and mental obstacles - then our job is to ensure we help them eliminate the obstacles.

In summary: Get action and remove obstacles and be amazed at how fast performance increases.

Listen to Gary Klein at TEDx: