Complete Confidence: How Innovation Inspires Us
Recently I was talking with a customer service rep on one of my Fortune 500 innovation teams. When she first joined the team, she had questioned the value she could add. “I’m just a processor. Why am I here with all of these smart people? I am insignificant,” she had said. But now, “I feel part of something much bigger. I know my experience matters, and I am so grateful for this opportunity. I realized I was limiting my own career, but now I feel like I can do anything. I even carry myself differently around my daughter and am passing on my new-found confidence to her.”
As change leaders, we know that when someone accomplishes something in an organization, they not only change the way things are done, but they also change themselves, literally. New behaviors linked to results can change the neural pathways in the brain, which literally translate into “a change in thinking.”
This starts in childhood when our brains are developing through a series of “serve and return” interactions between children and their parents. It continues in our adult lives as our brains are continually built over time—new neural pathways are always being formed and unused connections “pruned in a dynamic process.”
One of my team members at another organization said, “I am a little older than the rest of the workforce, and I don’t think I process things as quickly or as well as the others. I am not sure what I can add to this team.” This quiet reserved man, after participating in the innovation team, now presents to senior executives with a newfound spirit of joy and definitely exudes more confidence.
The concept of neuroplasticity supports this never-ending process of brain development. Our brains can change; we are not simply victims of our existing brain function or our genes. Part of our brain changing seems to be related to confidence. Scientists are exploring the idea that confidence “might be a measurable brain activity.” When an individual accomplishes a far-reaching, sometimes even audacious and seemingly impossible goal, when they take on activities outside their comfort zone and succeed, they see a glimpse of what their true potential really is, and this can build confidence.
How can you help your associates build more confidence? Here are three ways that I’ve found to be successful:
- Enable experimentation and innovation
- Provide purpose and meaning
- Build a sense of community and connection
Support Structured Experimentation Coupled with Innovation
Dr. Suzanne Roff, Ph.D., believes confidence is “largely built through our experiences with the world.” “When a goal is identified and accomplished well, confidence can increase,” said Roff in this Forbes article on “Where Does Self-Confidence Come From.”
One way to increase experiences is to support a process of experimentation. I like enabling experimentation through the explicit use of Plan-Do-Study-Act—the cycle of experimentation popularized by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. It represents the scientific method, beginning with a hypothesis and the design of the experiment (Plan), followed by conducting the experiment and observing and measuring the results (Do). The results are then studied in practical, graphical, and analytical terms (Study), followed by acting on the insights (Act) and the continuation of the cycle. (Read my recent post on “The Marriage of Innovation and Strategy” for more on PDSA and embodying an experimental mind-set.)
When we couple PDSA thinking with innovation, we also ask participants to aspire to and anchor on breakthrough and audacious goals. Then we give them tools to stretch their thinking beyond normal and expected patterns. We work to remove any psychological inertia in the organization and create energy and motivation.
If we then recognize the achievements of the cycle of innovation and experimentation, we are using the same “serve and return” feedback process that forms new neural pathways. Even if the experiment did not work out as expected, something was learned. Recognize and celebrate the learning regardless of the outcome. As Ben Zander, director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra states, if we live in a world of vision and possibility, and if we don’t achieve our goal, instead of being disappointed, we should say “how fascinating!”
This is how we build and strengthen neural pathways, which can lead to confidence.
Provide Purpose and Meaning
As I write about in an upcoming article in Quality Progress, there are six interrelated emotional drivers that allow teams to discover a shared emotional connection and inspire action.
Two of these drivers are Purpose and Connection.
Dan Ariely, an Israeli American professor of psychology and behavioral economics has researched what inspires people to work. People perform better when they care about reaching some meaningful end.
He tested two groups performing the same task—one group was given a meaningful purpose, one was not. Which group performed better? The group given a sense of purpose and meaning. Not only did this group perform better, but it also performed significantly better. Even a small meaning seems to make a difference. (Watch his TED talk on “What makes us feel good about our work.”)
This is part of what inspired my team member at the Fortune 500 firm. She was working on an innovation project that would completely overhaul the experience of the customers and make their lives easier—and that made a difference for her. If an experience is tied to a sense of purpose and meaning and it makes a difference for the entire team, it can also change the culture.
Build a Sense of Community and Connection
Another factor that contributes to confidence is connection, or a sense of community and belonging. As quoted by Dr. John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience in this article: “The need for social connection is so fundamental in humans that without it we fall apart, down to the cellular level.” And, it seems, the more connected we are in pursuit of a meaningful task, the more confident we can become.
This happened to another one of my innovation team members at a different company. The team had aligned and agreed to completely transform the core operations of the organization. They had brought their collective experience to bear, honoring each person’s contribution, and built something bigger than themselves. Not only did they gain confidence through their sense of connection, but also through finding meaning in their work and through experimentation in planning and execution. It was a triple win.
Can innovation inspire confidence in your team? Share your thoughts below or send me a message.
Dana Ginn is a senior client partner with BMGI. This article was originally published on LinkedIn. You can follow Dana on LinkedIn here.
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