Why You Need To Selectively Forget Your Own Past

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Reset All Assumptions

We must selectively forget the past. That means not accepting current practices but challenging underlying assumptions, our solutions and mindsets, and the way we tackle the problem.

We need services designed as people need them — not as we have learned to do them.

Bromford Design Principle 1 (Draft)

I’m doing some work at the moment on organisational design principles — which is as good an opportunity as any to stand back and assess our capability for radical thinking.

A lot of the conversations I’ve been party to recently have centered around the need for a strong organisational culture to promote innovation. Indeed — I took part in an innovation assessment that seemed to hold teamwork, co-operation and shared purpose up as a kind of holy grail.

My experience of working with teams is almost exactly the opposite. Innovation often thrives because of diversity and discord. “The idea that will get you fired” is often the best one to explore.

Strong cultures are a positive — but there’s a tipping point. A point where conflicting opinions can get stifled rather than being actively cultivated.

Phrases such as “That’s the way things get done around here” or “That person isn’t really a (insert your company name) sort of person” are early warning signs you’re reaching that point.

I’ve been reading the latest book from VG Govindarajan — a great thinker on innovation and leader of a global initiative to design a $300 House.

In the book VG proposes a simple test to assess the size of the challenge in forgetting the past.

Here are some of the questions:

  • We primarily promote from within
  • Our culture is homogeneous
  • We have a strong culture
  • Employees have a long tenure
  • We rarely recruit from outside apart from entry level positions
  • When people are recruited from outside, we have strong socialisation methods
  • We have a track record of success
  • We don’t mess with success
  • The senior management team has a long tenure and has also worked primarily in our sector

VG asks us to answer the questions scoring 1–5, with 1 representing ‘strongly disagree’, and 5 representing ‘strongly agree’. The higher the score the bigger the challenge.

I ran my own organisation through this — I’ll be asking other leaders to do the same — and found we score pretty highly.

As VG teaches us — this is not cause to throw our heads into our hands and despair. Rather it’s about surfacing awareness of the weight of our history — and the chains we may need to break to move forward.

A crucial part of this is about resetting our assumptions about why we do what we do, how we do them, and who does them.

It means embracing misfits — not rejecting them from “your” culture.

Contained in our own personal and organisational histories are thousands of assumptions. Assumptions that we live by everyday.

To truly transform we need to question every one of them.

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Originally published at paulitaylor.com on September 2, 2016.

Written by

Innovation Coach and Co-Founder of @BromfordLab. Follow for social innovation and customer experience.

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