by: Idris Mootee

Here I am with Adam (a smart and creative guy who started with us only for a week) in our new office. He was given three tools to get started: 1/ a power drill 2/ a IBM tablet and 3/a blackberry. He has a typical profile of the people that we carefully select ..the left and right brainer..the raw material for an innovation provocateur.

Why is it hard for industry leaders to innovate? Here's another paradox: As our specialist knowledge increase after being an industry leader for 15 years, our creativity and ability to innovate also tend to taper off. If you are a smart EVP of a Fortune 500 and have deep experience in your industry whatever it is, the chance is you will be struggling wiht innovation. The theory is ...the smarter and wiser...the more difficult it is to innovate (I am not saying less intelligent people can innovate either) Why? Because the deep experiences that we acquired based on proven theories and practices actually weaken our ability to reinvent.

Intel longtime CEO Andy Grove put it well when he said "When everybody knows that something is so, it means that nobody knows nothing". In other words, it becomes nearly impossible to look beyond what you know and think outside the box you've built around yourself.

I call this the curse of "winners". This means that the time you've become an expert in a particular subject, it's hard to imagine not knowing what you do. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. Your best practices stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path. That's why transfer of management talent between industries is one way to solve this problem. The other way to do this is to hire External Innovation Provocateurs like the people that we are hiring. It is not about inventing or innovating new products, it is taking a totally different look at innovation from "experience innovation" to "social innovation" or "business model innovation". Some might think it is a dangerous idea to open up innovation process to outsider. The idea is to bet on diversity with a multi-disciplinary approach to looking the problems. It is important to have people whose job is think about innovation every day and night as most managers jobs is operational in nature.

Elizabeth Newton, a psychologist, conducted an experiment on the curse of knowledge while working on her doctorate at Stanford in early 90s. She gave one set of people, called "tappers," a list of commonly known songs from which to choose. Their task was to rap their knuckles on a tabletop to the rhythm of the chosen tune as they thought about it in their heads. A second set of people, called "listeners," were asked to name the songs.  Before the experiment began, the tappers were asked how often they believed that the listeners would name the songs correctly. On average, tappers expected listeners to get it right about half the time. In the end, however, listeners guessed only 3 of 120 songs tapped out, or 2.5%. The tappers were astounded. The song was so clear in their minds; how could the listeners not "hear" it in their taps? That's a common reaction when experts set out to share their ideas in the business world.

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