The BIG Lie, Walls and Innovation
If I was consulting at a company and the CEO told me that they were going to wall themselves off from the rest of the world, to prevent unwanted impacts from occurring to the organization, I would pretty forcefully make the argument that what they were doing was going to increase the amount of unwanted impacts, exactly the opposite of what was hoped.
Organizations which isolate themselves in an attempt to insulate themselves will not be challenged by or have access to better ideas, processes or products from elsewhere. Ideas, processes and products that others will have access to. Are those challenges uncomfortable, pushing the organization into new and potential untried directions? Yes. But those very challenges help them to progress as an organization and it helps them progress on making better, higher quality products. Isolated organizations stagnate, as the world passes them by, making them obsolete and ripe for failure or collapse. It is only a matter of time.
Organizations that embrace the outside world, find that they have to constantly update themselves, including their products and process, as well as the skill sets of their people. It makes success more difficult to achieve, but it also strengthens the organization so it can compete more effectively in the long-term.
One key element in measuring whether an organization is functioning as a highly innovative organization is to determine if the organization can make use of the best ideas from within the organization regardless of where they come from. Is the source of new ideas and concepts limited only to those whose responsibility or job title has something about research or innovation in it? If so, you can be pretty sure that you are looking at an organization that is not all that innovative. If innovations come from all over the organization, and the organization can incorporate the best of those ideas into the way they operate, you are likely dealing with a much more successful, innovative company. Another aspect of innovation is whether the company can find the best ideas and concepts externally and can they incorporate those novelties into their existing products and operations.
Innovation comes in at least two “flavors”. Big “I” and little “i” innovation. As Scott Brooks and I describe in our new book, Creating the Vital Organization, little “i” innovation is when existing processes, products and policies are improved. A daycare center which changes their hours of operation to better accommodate parents is doing little “i” innovation. Big “I” innovation is when brand new explorations are taking place, new products are thought of, new markets explored, and completely new business processes are being tried out. A daycare center that adds eldercare, which likely requires new and different equipment and/or facilities, new activities, different and/or additional staff and care standards, new marketing, etc. is doing big “I” innovation. Both of these types of innovation are critical for long-term organizational success.
A daycare center which, by walling itself off from its environment, continues doing only childcare, while all of its competitors are also offering eldercare, will fall behind competitively, for as the environment changes (with an aging population), they fail to adapt. Can they survive? Perhaps. But if everyone who needs childcare, suddenly finds themselves needing eldercare as well, this daycare is ill-prepared to deal with the market and the changing external environment. The organization which does not change will not thrive as they fail to fulfill their potential.
As the pace of change quickens, partly driven by rapidly changing technology and global economic conditions, keeping pace with change is all that more difficult and painful. But that difficulty will not change the ultimate outcome for an entity that Walls itself off.
An aspect of personality has been shown to be tied to innovation, changes and Walls. Neophobics, are people who tend to fear new things, they are traditional, wanting to maintain existing social orders, the things they have done in the past that work “just fine”, they want to build walls, both socially, policy-wise and physical. And they have been shown to have a more easily triggered sense of disgust. (Jonathan Haidt, the noted sociologist, has also found that they tend to be Republican). When something is new or different, or perceived as a threat their reaction can be one of disgust. They may talk about how “disgusting” an event, a person, or a change is to them. Neophobia is not a binary, either/or condition. It is anchored at the other end of the scale with neophillia, or a tendency to engage in new activities or to like new things. People at this end of the scale tend to embrace change and find it invigorating. The vast majority of us are not at one extreme or the other, but tend towards the middle of the scale. And depending on the situation, or environment a person who is neophillic just might act in a neophobic way and vice versa. Those at the more extreme ends of the scale exhibit somewhat predictable behaviors.
There are many forms that Walls can take. A physical wall between the USA and Mexico is very obvious, aimed at keeping a “problem” outside. Presenting your opinion as being based on “alternative facts” is simply a Wall that prevents the truth from entering, allowing those who base their actions on alternative facts (lies), to ignore reality. (People who cannot tell fantasy from reality are technically psychotic, a very serious mental illness.) A trade agreement is a way of overcoming Walls while tariffs on goods is a way of creating Walls. Eventually these Walls will increase the undesired impacts on the nation rather than reducing them.
Having peered reviewed scientific research run through a political vetting process as has been stated as a new policy for Federal Agencies as the new administration begins a lock down on information at such places as the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency is nothing more than a Wall. You don’t want to let scientific truths impact your political talking points, so you must Wall off the truth. As both a scientist and a CEO, I find that deeply troubling, as there is only one way that can end if implemented, and it is not good for science, for business or for the USA. Fantasy worlds tend to collapse over time as they are nothing more than a house of cards. Scientific facts simply do not care what you believe. The ice is melting, the climate is changing, whether you personally believe it or not.
The USA is a very large organization. At this moment in time, there are elements that are aiming to build all sorts of Walls around it and even within it. These Walls will weaken the nation, will reduce the standard of living, and put all of us in peril. It is time to tear down Walls, not build them.