We know organizations strive to be more innovative. We know half of the jobs that exist today won’t exist in 20 years and we know that the majority of Fortune 500 firms that existed in 1995 are gone. We don’t want to become obsolete because we overlooked opportunities that were right under our nose.
Consider some organizations that clung to “tried and true” ways of doing things. In the 1980s, Kodak dominated the photography market worldwide. As the age of technology emerged, the company owned the patents to an obscure phenomenon called digital photography. The leaders feared that if they productized and sold the new technology, it would cause a decline in their film sales. Using the classic decision-making process, they decided to forgo the new technology to protect their dominance in film-based photography. Of course, digital photography took over the industry, and if the company had focused more on digitization, chances are it would be thriving today. They failed because they held onto status quo thinking.
In 2000, an obscure video company called Netflix pitched an offer to Blockbuster, the most dominant player in the video rentals market, to become a partner for online rentals. After analyzing the offer using this standard model, Blockbuster’s leaders concluded that there was little or no market for online video rentals. They decided to pass on the offer. What happened? Blockbuster went out of business, and in 2018, Netflix had 124 million paying subscribers in over 190 countries and $7.6 billion in revenue. Again, status quo thinking killed them.
If we want to be truly innovative, we must open ourselves to new ideas and that happens through exploration.
Innovation usually comes from ideas from people in the field, on the ground, behind the scenes, and from those pulling the strings. But we need to put them in a position, give them permission, and encourage them to explore ideas, test new directions, and imagine the future. As artificial intelligence and technology threaten existing jobs, talent needs to be brought along as well to help the company evolve and drive that change.
With the advent of new technology, we will have a lot of people who are going to need to move into new areas of employment. But where do we put them? Where will they fit? Wouldn’t it be great to put them someplace where they felt more engaged? Wouldn’t we be able to find out what they could be best at if we asked them questions and allowed them to pursue areas of interest?
Leadership and management need curiosity to ask questions to develop the curiosity and creativity that can lead to innovation.
Sometimes the best solutions come from the most unexpected places. England’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, which treats heart patients, was experiencing an inordinate number of casualties when patients were being transferred from one unit to another. One of the physicians was watching a Formula One race and was particularly impressed by how quickly and efficiently the pit crews serviced everything, mistake-free, in seven seconds or less. So, he invited Formula One racing teams to come in and view the hospital’s transfer procedures, and then make observations based on their own procedures. The three-step process recommended by the racing teams, once implemented, reduced the hospital’s errors by more than 50 percent. Thinking in a unique outside the box way can be what it takes to thrive in today’s environment. That is why it is so critical to understand the importance of curiosity.