Strategies for Innovation Stop Groundhog Day Thinking

In the movie Groundhog Day, actor Bill Murray is condemned to live the same day of his life over, and over, and over again.

Groundhog Day thinking is the seductive loop that lurks in offices and conference rooms tempting us to reject fresh ideas for recycled solutions. How do you resist the pull of the familiar and let creativity flow?

Is the answer in who you hire or how you work? My opinion is it’s a combination of both. Some people are probably wired to be more curious and independent thinkers than others. The popular left brain/right brain theory speculates that the lefties are more analytical and methodical, and the right-brainers are the artists and creatives. But there isn’t a monopoly on problem-solving. There are only different approaches.

On July 14, .orgCommunity will host our annual Innovation Summit. We invited the most inventive individuals in the association industry to speak. I’m going to bet there are left-brainers, right-brainers, and an impressive representation of Myers-Briggs types in the group.   

Most people enjoy being innovators. Discovery is exciting and fun. But it can also be risky and open the door to unwanted critique and judgment. Even if you deliberately hire employees who are high on the creativity index, they won’t thrive in a Groundhog Day culture.

Back in the 1980s, a Swedish researcher named Goran Eckvall studied the factors that contribute to an innovative organizational environment. He identified “10 dimensions for a creative climate.” You wouldn’t go wrong putting Eckvall’s theories into practice today.

During interviews with CEOs for two books I co-wrote on positioning for success in the digital era, innovation was a frequent topic. Our contributors’ observations generally dovetailed with Eckvall’s ideas.

These are qualities, culled from both sources as well as our own observations, that any organization seeking to develop high-performance teams should cultivate.

Make It Interesting

Groundhog Day thinking frustrates people, saps their energy, and puts them to sleep. A puzzle keeps everyone engaged. Under the right circumstances, we thrive on challenges. Employees who solve problems and participate in reaching organizational goals discover meaning and fulfillment in their work. That satisfaction is an endorphin that motivates teams to future success.

Make asking tough questions and finding solutions a cultural imperative for everyone in the organization, from the coordinators to the top brass.

Have Fun

Although I’m not sure who would admit this, I know some leaders secretly believe that if employees are having fun, they aren’t working. Let go of your inner curmudgeon. It’s a fact that when people are relaxed, they are also more creative.

Laughter is good for people and organizations.

Laughter relieves stress. It’s good for employees and organizations. Darwin called laughter the social expression of happiness and speculated that groups who laughed together had a survival advantage.

Lightheartedness and comedy have been proven to stimulate creativity. In a study from Northwestern University, researcher Karuna Subramaniam found that volunteers who watched a comedy were significantly better at solving a word association puzzle than subjects who had watched a horror film.

So don’t stifle the giggles. Help your employees find joy in what they do for the better part of their day. Hire your local improv company to conduct a creativity workshop. Or simply let the good times roll. Innovation is spontaneous, free-flowing, and able to connect unlikely dots. Moments of silliness can open those gateways and help you find solutions to complex problems.

Be a Mensch

This Yiddish expression is used to describe a person of the greatest integrity, who is also kind, considerate, and humble. In other words, someone who people trust. Trust is the highest organizational currency. When people believe in you, your leadership potential soars. When they don’t, your team might function, but they will never deliver their best performance.

We all have feet of clay; so, menschdom is something to aspire to. A team that feels supported in their work and respects their leader will also want to deliver outstanding results. Make problem-solving, creativity, and innovation performance standards, and recognize and reward success.

Facilitate Collaboration   

Create Diversity

Whether they are physical, procedural, or policy-related, break down barriers that prevent employees from working together. As I said earlier, innovation thrives on multiple and varied perspectives. This is just one of many reasons why diversity, both inherited (race, gender, etc.) and experiential (exposure to other cultures and ways of life) is important.

A 2018 study from BCG found that in companies with management teams representing significant diversity innovation revenue was 45% of total revenue versus just 25% for companies with limited diversity representation; or 19 percentage points higher for the more diverse groups.

If your organization currently looks and thinks too much like just a few people, strive to create the rainbow in future hiring. This concept should also extend to the board of directors and other areas of leadership.   

Promote Civility

Collaboration that goes beyond agreeing and patting each other on the back for a job well done requires a range of opinions. Innovation is sparked by the willingness to discuss and debate controversial topics, and to listen attentively to challenging arguments.

Recruit for diversity; hire for fit.

When you recruit for diversity, don’t neglect to hire for fit. One toxic personality can quickly turn an atmosphere of trust, collaboration, and cooperation into dysfunction. Make the rules for civility clear and ensure that prospective employees understand and are willing to abide by your organization’s code of conduct.

Fast Track Good Ideas

Bureaucracy is innovation’s antimatter. One of the reasons Groundhog Day thinking is so compelling, especially in associations, is because it doesn’t rock the boat. Familiar ideas and initiatives tend to slide through the sticky layers of governance.

Nothing discourages brainstorming more than allowing fresh insights to sit on the shelf until they become stale. Letting a bold concept get diluted into dishwater by committee is another effective way to kill creativity.  

Leaders can help innovation move freely through their associations by keeping staff and volunteers focused on the appropriate responsibilities. Put the decision-making in the camp of those who have the skill and expertise to make the best choices. When in doubt, run a pilot program or use the concept of the minimum viable product to avoid risk and move initiatives forward.

For-profit companies like Amazon and Google hold weekly meetings where new product ideas are vetted. This means that there is never a long wait to review the latest proposals. An expedient preapproval process ensures that the presentations are thorough and thoughtful.

Invite the Punks

If you’re able to attend the Innovation Summit, either in-person or virtually, you’ll experience the sharp mind and sharper wit, of Greg Larkin. He bills himself as Chief Punk at his company, Punks and Pinstripes.

Larkin describes the punks as the rebels with the ideas that turn tides and the pinstripes as the people with the checkbook to put that vision into action. He believes that when those two groups collaborate, great invention happens.

Don’t hide your punks in their cubicles, give them a seat in the conference room. Then, be willing to listen to recommendations that won’t always be easy to hear. Innovation is three-quarters imagination, objectivity, and acceptance, and one-quarter leap of faith. It gets easier with practice.

For more wisdom from Greg, and a sure path to stop Groundhog Day thinking at your organization, join us at the Innovation Summit on July 14 at ASGE Institute for Training and Technology in Downers Grove, Illinois or online. Hope to see you there!