Are you in a “more of the same mode” in your innovation work? In this article Susanna Bill uses two real-life examples to remind us of the need to see beyond given truths. We need to keep our eyes and ears open for the triggers presented by others. She also returns to a “golden-oldie” exercise to put ourselves off balance and open up our thinking for new opportunities.

Realization of given truths

Three years ago my smart phone and IPad arrived and I entered the age of ”always access” with unlimited bandwidth. Since then the daily life of me and my family consists of constantly consulting our gadgets with everything from e-mails and messages to recipes, movies, daily new – you know the drill. An obvious consequence of bits and bytes is that the physical representations of the same info (books, DVDs, newspapers, etc.) decrease in importance to the extent that you hardly think of them anymore. Whatever the issue, wherever I am and whatever time of the day there are websites, blogs and applications that cater for what I’m looking for.

In February the family went on ski vacation to Norway. About one hour after crossing the Norwegian border I got my first warning from the operator claiming that I had spent 80% of my daily allowance of bandwidth. It was then I realized that I had become a victim of a given truth. Unlimited bandwidth had become a commodity taken for granted, a given truth that none of us had reflected upon. We did not prepare for lack of bandwidth and were lost about what to do in the evenings; having to rely on the few books that we brought along. At first we were frustrated. However, after accepting the situation we had a really good time, experiencing the positive side effects of not being preoccupied with checking emails, messages and Facebook. I can honestly say that being cut off the net for a week made us calmer and more relaxed.

Most of the time the autopilot is a good thing, but in order to get out of a more of the same thinking we need to question the given.

One of the most difficult challenges in doing innovation is to see through and consequently challenge given truths. This is one of the issues everyone writing posts in this column have touched upon and come back to (see e.g Leif Denti and Bengt Järrehult). In our daily lives we make innumerous choices, most of which are done unconsciously in order to save brain capacity and attention to what matters. Most of the time the autopilot is a good thing, but in order to get out of a more of the same thinking we need to question the given. My point is that we need to practice seeing what is important.

In early winter I went to Gothenburg for some work. In Gothenburg, just as in many other Swedish cities the ticket systems of public transportation is digital. When in need of a bus ticket all you need to do is send a simple text message to purchase a digital buss ticket. Not anymore. Due to legislation all users of such services have to go through a lengthy sign up process, including submitting personal credentials on a small screen prior to purchasing the bus ticket. The user experience of doing this while worrying about missing the bus altogether was not very positive to say the least. It was clear that taking the stance of the user and his/her need for speed and convenience was put back in favor of how the technical support systems had been designed.

Reflection and perspective

Both stories are examples of the difficulties in seeing a given truth without triggers. We didn’t reflect upon the positive effects of a lack of bandwidth until the operator restricted us. The sign-up process to the ticket service was a result of prioritizing a logical technology based solution rather than taking the vantage point of the user in accepting that the given truth: that the development process starts with technology, was no longer valid.

I would in fact go so far as to claim that we are dependent on triggers to see a given truth.

Reflecting upon unexpected situations as the ones described above helps us put things into a new perspective and allows us to interpret the situation in a new way. The first step though, to identify the given truth is extremely difficult to do without a trigger. I would in fact go so far as to claim that we are dependent on triggers to see a given truth.

Others help us see by exposing us to such triggers. We were forced into thinking differently by the data roaming business model. If the developers of the sign up process had taken the vantage point of the user, the service experience would have been more connected to the actual use rather than a lengthy one involving making decisions on the go that clearly put the user off.

In one of my first blogs I introduced an exercise for taking on another perspective and I think it deserves to be mentioned again. At times when involving others may not be possible, discuss what you are working on and remove the most vital parts (what would a ski vacation be without skis? What would a sign-up service without technology be like?). This exercise will help you to get out of how you usually look at the situation. I do however doubt that we would have thought about “the ski vacation without band width” – for the less obvious you need somebody else to help you.

In summary we need to practice how to see beyond given truths. If we never challenge our assumptions not much innovation will happen. Reflecting upon unexpected situations help us sort things out and look at the situation as an opportunity to learn. We are in ourselves often too narrow minded to see through given truths. Triggers such as perspectives different from our own, or practical exercises that put us out of our daily context help to lose balance and force us to reflect upon the situation in a new way.

For this post I was inspired by this exercise that tests your awareness to see outside the given.

By Susanna Bill

About the author

Susanna is the former Head of Innovation at Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications. In 2009 she founded Sustenance AB and since then shares her time between advising corporate leaders in how to make innovation happen by strengthening the innovation capabilities of their organizations, and pursuing a PhD at the department of Design Sciences at Lund University, focusing on the social processes that are beneficial for the innovation capabilities of self organizing teams. Susanna is a sought after speaker and panelist and the moderator of Innovation in Mind conference.