Whatever normal might be in the future, UX professionals still believe in and have a strong understanding of our need to innovate in design—as well as in engaging with people and in our work—no matter what the industry. It is essential that we ensure innovation permeates throughout our organizations, in a way that enables success rather than stifles it through fear.
When I created a new position that focuses solely on using a strong, design-led approach to innovation and how this could drive greater benefit both within my organization and as a way of more deeply engaging with our customers, one of my mentors warned that I must relish receiving criticism from everyone.
Starting a new function in a company—or trying anything new—brings naysayers, critics, and some people who actually relish seeing something fail. This can put a lot of pressure on not just the leader of the team but on anyone who is part of that team and trying to do something that is new to the organization.
Having the right mentality is critical to the success of innovation. During these times, asking people to participate in disruption can come off a bit tone deaf. Haven’t we been disrupted enough over the past 18 months? Aren’t we living in a tidal wave of disruption right now? Whose prerogative is it to ask anyone to take more risk and be more disruptive?
While all of these are valid concerns, we cannot lose sight of the targeted, disruptive behavior that is necessary to ensure true innovation happens. True innovation requires a level of patience, tolerance, and comfort with risk that few people have. You might call it fearlessness or stupidity—in fact, it is probably a lot of both. So why do we seek innovation?
We engage in innovation because it’s is a key driver of economic growth. In the past, creating something new was the predominant way in which innovation added value. What’s great about innovation in business today, in a time such as this, is that innovation is now all about applying the knowledge we already have, usually using technology with which we’re already familiar and the people who are on our team to solve a given business problem. We just do this in a different way.
This represents both a strength and a weakness. Familiar knowledge, technologies, and processes can create great loyalty to any of these elements. Loyalty can generate great stubbornness and resistance to change. Much as in design, the human element can make or break our attempts at innovation. When people have invested in a process that they may have played a strong role in crafting, there is usually a fair bit of resistance to doing anything to change it, especially if you want to change something that your colleagues see as working well—even if, in actuality, it is not. So how can you tilt that human element in your favor? By derisking any change you need people to accept.