The Paradox of Common Sense in Innovation

Posted by jartese on Mar 26, 2014 1:47:02 PM

by Stefan Lindegaard

Why do companies  - or rather people in the companies – miss out on obvious things so often? Why can’t they implement the initiatives or take the actions that seem to be common sense to so many people and especially those from outside the company? This goes with business management in general and in innovation management in particular.
I had a good discussion on this topic as a follow-up to my recent blog post, 5 Steps for a Better Innovation Culture through Experimentation and Failure. Here, Graham Duncan was tempted to label my suggestions as common sense, but he got to wonder why it seems that organizations find it so difficult to adopt them.

Duncan made a good point that got me to think more about this paradox of common sense. Why does it happen so often? As a discussion starter, I will share some of my views on this. Here they are:

You are too caught up in your own world to see the bigger picture: We have seen it over and over again how new employees join with enthusiasm and fresh ideas only to become “one of the others” within a couple of years. Big companies just seem to breed conformity and this is to a high degree because a big company needs to get things done on a daily basis and this requires firm processes and ways of doing things. You simply adapt to how things work and thus the desire to challenge the status quo diminishes.

Things are always more complex than they look like: You can argue this, but perhaps this is just an excuse that builds further on the above observation. The challenge is to cut through the clutter and simplify the actions needed to get things done and just as importantly, the communication efforts that support this.

Corporate politics can stifle the right actions: Here I think we are at the root cause of the paradox of common sense. Although, all employees should want the best for their company, we need to remember that people have a very strong tendency to put themselves first and foremost. This brings out lots of internal fights and the corporate politics that seem to be inevitable in larger organizations.

The fast pace of change, business and innovation: What is the right thing to do? If everything moves so fast today, the common sense itself also changes much faster than before making it more difficult to get this right.

I could add more, but instead I would like to end with a quote taken from a good article by Duncan Watts.

“The paradox of common sense, then, is that even as it helps us make sense of the world, it can actively undermine our ability to understand it.”

Food for thought, right?

Topics: Innovation Insights

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