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In a previous post I wrote about how important open-mindedness really is. It fuels innovation. This leads to a higher growth, productivity, employment and prosperity. There are many ideas that could solve economic, societal and ecological problems. And yet it’s difficult to get them implemented. The general rule is that people are looking for conformity. But conformity kills innovation.
Why is that? I see five reasons.

Reason 1: Questioning yourself is difficult.

We all have our stories. Those stories aim at feeling good about ourselves. And so once we get a balanced life, some satisfaction, it’s difficult to question that. We are looking for conformity to the norm we have set for ourselves. Why change something that is working for you? Questioning yourself is difficult. It requires courage.

Reason 2: Changing course costs Energy.

Courage means energy. It costs a lot of energy to switch. You have to give a lot of attention to the change. And we know that there is no change without pain. So conformity is the easier path.

Reason 3: The outcome is uncertain.

Moreover, you know what you have and you do not know how it’s going to be. Many changes start out with good hope, but end in disappointment or despair. The Arabic Spring started with good hopes. It ended in bloodshed without much progress. At least you know what you have when you conform to the norm.

Reason 4: Education aims at conformity

I compare open-mindedness with a muscle. You need to train it. If you don’t the muscle dies. Open-mindedness starts with education. How does one look at the world? Does the education system confirm a certain view on things or does it invite people to think for themselves, question, be critical? The answer is yes. We are educated to conform.

Reason 5: The context does not help

And finally there is a context. In certain environments there is just no support for open-mindedness and innovation. Do as you are told. Don’t think. Many cultures are drenched in conservatism, lack of safety for experimentation, fear of failure. Those who want to leave orbit and break with conformity are usually ousted.
The first 3 reasons are about people. The last 2 are about leadership. Through leadership conditions arise that help people to be open-minded, agile and innovative.
And don’t forget what Frank Zappa wrote.
Open-Mindedness Conformity
How about you and your organization?

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

One Comment

  • Such a great article, the perfect read for a Friday evening. Once we achieve a certain level of comfort we do tend to see innovation as a threat. It’s a good idea to question our evolution every now and then.

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