Innovation is what propels companies forward. Without it, they falter, and this has never been truer than it is today. This much is clear, the rate of change is faster than ever.
But there’s a problem. All organizations say they want to be agile, but when the rubber meets the road, many of them spin out. Why? Because wanting and doing are two different things and although organizations’ intentions are good, their own actions sometimes undermine their effectiveness.
There are good reasons why organizations, and people, are not agile. It’s not because they don’t want to be, of course they do. But to become an Agile Organization requires changes in how people do things, and all humans are affected by cognitive biases that hijack their motivation to change. The good news is that becoming aware of these biases and changing behavior to counteract them is straightforward. When people work on this type of change, they become more agile, and this helps their organizations.
But agility is only one part of something larger – Social Intelligence.
What is Social Intelligence?
Social Intelligence transforms how people think, act and react. To become socially intelligent requires people to recognize and mitigate cognitive biases that affect their performance. This happens by learning and practicing behavioral strategies until they become new habits, which results in people becoming more agile, resilient, emotionally intelligent and versatile. Each of these abilities helps people and organizations.
Let’s look at how agility, specifically, fits into Social Intelligence.
First, thinking. To be agile, people need to handle complexity and learn new ways of approaching problems and issues. By testing new ways of thinking and examining issues from different perspectives, people can have unique insights, discover unforeseen opportunities and develop creative solutions to existing problems.
Second, acting. To make an impact, people need to put their ideas into practice. Organizations need to propel their best ideas forward, and this takes collaboration, often across multiple teams, and the ability to be flexible as ideas are developing and adapting. Great breakthroughs almost never happen in isolation. Moving ideas forward requires strategies for influencing gatekeepers, the people who ultimately decide what does and doesn’t happen. So, the main messages and benefits of ideas have to be clearly communicated in ways that will influence people to move forward.
Finally, reacting. Humans are emotional creatures. People have strong, often negative reactions to change, even when they outwardly claim to be in favor of change. To be agile, people need to be resilient in the face of constant change and tolerate what they might feel is an uncomfortable amount of ambiguity and risk. By learning to do this, they develop the wherewithal to be brave in challenging how things are done and the confidence to create and lead change.
Socially intelligent people have learned to develop these abilities, and the accumulation of ideas from these people is what ultimately leads to an agile organization – one where teams are focused on solving problems and finding new opportunities, where there is effective collaboration across functions, and where ideas are put into practice quickly and effectively.
How do Cognitive Biases affect Agility?
A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that leads to mistakes and bad decisions. The key is that these errors are systematic, they happen frequently and are below people’s awareness. There is an automatic system of the brain that controls much of what people do every day. Through evolution people’s brains developed cognitive biases to save them from using precious energy thinking about trivial things, like driving to work. While this is beneficial in many ways, there are drawbacks: people take shortcuts and make mistakes even on important decisions. The key to becoming agile is to alleviate these biases by using strategies that disrupt typical ways of thinking.
For example, one bias that is a barrier to agility is the status quo bias. People stick with the tried and true and make conservative decisions. Ironically, at just those times when people need to be most innovative, when companies are in danger of failing, people’s human nature is to double-down and stick with what they know and are comfortable with. This is just part of the human condition.
Unfortunately, it has bad effects. During these times, people are less able to focus on what’s important, don’t generate good ideas, and don’t collaborate well. The status quo bias, among others that prevent innovation, leads to stagnation, lost revenue, and declining profits.
Despite our biases, research shows that agility can be learned. But, it’s not as simple as telling people to “think outside the box.” In fact, such clichés are useless and often backfire since they lead people to believe that there is some magical ability that they don’t possess. Instead, to become agile, people need to recognize that everyone has the ability to be creative and to see good ideas through to fruition. It is simply a matter of having the right tools and processes in place, which allows people to change their behavior and mindsets. Shifting people’s thinking about innovation and how to achieve it is crucial for creating an agile culture.
Learn more about Agility and Social Intelligence through these resources: