Developmental Evaluation Trap #3: Fearing Success

What if you tried to innovate and succeeded? This fourth in a series of posts looking at Developmental Evaluation traps explores that question and the implications that come from being good at innovating.

A truly successful innovation changes things — mindsets, workflows, systems, and outcomes. Some of these changes are foreseeable, some are not and they are rarely ever uniformly positive. Take the strange situation that many non-profits face: most will put themselves out of business if they truly succeed in their mission.

Or consider the corporate manager who is looking to get her or his staff engaged. The benefits of staff engagement are many, including contributing more to the organization, but that also means they will ask more of the organization and require more.

The trap with Developmental Evaluation (DE) is that it provides a window into the organizations’ innovation strategy and disrupts the way in which it learns, adapts, and designs its products. It tests assumptions, meaning that some myths that an organization holds might be challenged. DE emplores organizations to use evidence to support decisions, not just precedent.

DE also provides a means to account for the work that is performed in the quest to innovate (not just what is produced), which sounds like an enormous perk for those who are used to being judged solely on production, unless you really didn’t want to put the work in and are content to simply produce the most marginal of products.

What fear looks like

The most problematic form of fear is self-sabotage.  Self-sabotage refers to the behaviours we engage in — individually or as a group or organization — that keep us from taking the actions we believe will lead to success. The reasons might have to do with social norms. If what you’re doing is normal, then it probably isn’t innovation. Innovating means deviating from what others are doing.

Risk is another fear-factor. Doing something different requires risk-taking and that means holding yourself up to possible criticism, disapproval from others, or financial costs (among others).

Further complicating things is that risk-taking and social behaviour are often linked together.

Fear also manifests in actions not taken. It may manifest in not pursuing opportunities or pursuing only those that are safe. It may be ignoring problems or asking the kind of questions that focus attention away from what is important, to what is easy. Often we see organizations seek to collect lots of data on something unimportant because it’s safer than collecting data on something that matters but is much riskier.

Fear can further manifest in things like over-researching a topic (never having ‘enough’ data’), deferring decisions, blaming the timing (“It’s just not the right time to innovate”), or complexity (“it’s too complex”).

Practical fear-fighting

How do guard against your own fear of success? There are some things we can do to better utilize lessons gained through approaches like DE to assist innovation efforts.

  1. Innovation therapy. Mental health professionals often go through and remain in some form of professional therapy or guided reflection to enable them to attune to their biases, work through their personal issues, and hone their skills with another professional. The same process of ongoing, guided, reflective practice and ‘treatment’ is beneficial to organizations as well because it creates that same social norm to talk about fears, challenges, and ambiguities. Create space for reflection, discussion, and problem-solving in your regular meetings. Make the time for innovation.
  2. Create outcomes from processes. DE is a great tool for showcasing the work that goes into an innovation, not just the innovation itself. Regularly collect the data that goes into the process — ideas generated (quality and quantity), rough sketches, prototypes, and hours worked, to name a few suggestions. These can help show what goes into a product, which is an end in itself. This makes something that seems abstract more tangible.
  3. Make change visible. Make work visible through evaluation and visual thinking – including the ups, downs, sideways and showcase where along the journey you are along a process (e.g., use a timeline)
  4. Create better systems, not just different behaviour. Complex systems have path-dependencies — those ruts that shape our actions, often unconsciously and out of habit. Consider ways you organize yourself, your organization’s jobs and roles, the income streams, the system of rewards and recognition, the feedback and learning you engage with, and composition of your team.  This rethinking and reorganization are what changes DNA, otherwise, it will continue to express itself through your organization in the same way.

These are all part of the developmental evaluator’s toolkit, which is basically a core part of innovation itself. DE can be a means to help you confront your fears, not deny them. Try these out and see how you can avoid the trap of self-sabotage and to become better innovators and learners.

Want to learn more about how to do DE or how to bring it to your innovation efforts? Contact us and we’d be happy to help.



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