The past few years have shown agility is essential to small business success, but what is the role of agility in innovation? How can developing an agile mindset help lead business owners towards more sustainable success and more significant innovation?
Professor Elaine Fox has been studying how mindset impacts innovation for decades, firstly as a researcher at Oxford University and more recently as the Head of the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide.
In her 25 plus years researching innovation and mindset, Fox has come to several conclusions, which she shares in her new book Switchcraft. Combining psychology and neuroscience, Fox unpacks how an agile mind leads to innovation and allows problem-solving to become innate. According to Fox, developing ‘swithcraft’: the ability to break free from a rigid mindset to agility is key to thriving in any situation. And for small businesss owners, it could be the superpower that will see them survive the pandemic.
We only see what we want to see
A rigid mindset is limiting.
Fox says an inability to switch from one way of thinking to another means we miss opportunities. It is perhaps one reason why some business owners found the pandemic so challenging, while others were able to switch gears and find opportunities instead.
“If you look back through history, we can see that many of the great leaps in human knowledge have been based on a shift in how we think about familiar things in new and unexpected ways,” Fox says.
Switching to a more flexible way of viewing the world opens the door to possibilities. In her book, Switchcraft, she cites an example: In 1546, physician and scientist Girolamo Fracastoro put forward a theory that infections were not caused by bad air (as was the current school of thought) but by germs. But Fracastoro’s ideas fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t until 100 years later that a Dutch scientist observed germs under a microscope, and 200 years later, Louis Pasteur changed the way we viewed germ theory forever.
“Just think how much faster our progress would be if we could open our minds to all the possibilities,” Fox says.
Bias and innovation
According to Fox, an open mind fosters innovation. The challenge in being more flexible is that what we see is often coloured by our own biases. It’s why she says it’s much easier to see wrongdoing in strangers than in our friends, why we can ignore invaluable information and why we all tend to see the world “the way we want to see it”.
To challenge this thinking and adopt a more agile mindset, Fox suggests we need to understand why we sometimes stick or switch.
“While a familiar way of doing things may be comforting, it’s important to ask yourself continuously whether your approach is really a good fit for your problems.”
If it’s not, Fox suggests it’s time to switch tactics.
According to the Professor, task switching is an invaluable skill to develop more agile thinking. It’s a fundamental feature of our brain to find task switching disruptive – yet being able to flick this lever is essential to innovation. If you want to give your brain a quick workout on the power of task switching and its link to creation, Fox suggests this simple exercise, which she calls the ‘unusual uses test’.
Set a time limit and find as many uses for an everyday object as possible. This will give you an idea of your fluency, creativity and ability to task switch,” she explains.
Innovation from chaos
From chaos comes creativity. Fox suggests some of our best inventions have come from people trying to find solutions during times of turmoil.
“An appreciation that the unexpected can happen is crucial to allow us to perform at our peak in any situation,” Fox says.
“Sometimes changes can be predicted while other times they are forced upon us (like the pandemic). Either way, our openness to accept and cope with what is technically called dislocated expectations, is the cornerstone of our psychological health.”
To become psychologically agile, Fox suggests the ABCD method:
- Adapt to changing demands.
- Balance competing desires and fears.
- Change or challenge your perspective.
- Develop your mental competence.
Sometimes, she says, changing your question is all that is needed. Reframing your question can lead to a new way of thinking and fosters innovation.
Don’t forget your intuition
Lastly, Fox says we shouldn’t negate the role of intuition in helping us to face challenges or come up with creative solutions.
“Intuition provides us with an instinctive understanding of what’s important and what information can safely be ignored.
Albert Einstein has been widely quoted as saying; ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant but has forgotten the gift’
According to Fox, gut feelings are there to guide you but they need to be tempered with context.
“Gut feelings can help you adapt in a rapidly changing environment but context provides the data you need to act and innovate.”
Kochie’s Business Builders and PEUGEOT Professional are proud to bring you Innovators, a national competition to find Australia’s most innovative small businesses disrupting the norm in 2022. We asked you to nominate and vote for inventive, creative businesses that are disrupting the norm. From 1000s of votes you selected your winner!
It’s all thanks to PEUGEOT Professional vans, made for businesses driving their own roads to success. See more at peugeot.com.au.