The innovation project was complete, the results were very positive and the client team was happy with everything that was accomplished. As we discussed how to enhance team collaboration for future projects, one opportunity area – mostly a reflection of the client’s internal cultural - kept coming up: anxiety. Why was the team feeling so anxious throughout the project? Well, for one they were blazing a new path in their large organization (which was no small feat) and second they were learning a new way of doing things which was edgy, disruptive and felt a tad bit uncomfortable. But being out of your comfort zone is one thing. This felt different…. As we discussed it further, the client suggested their anxiety / angst most likely linked to their need to deliver a “perfect” result.
As I reflected on this situation after the meeting – I was reminded of something that Dave Evans from Stanford roughly said: “The unknown competitor that you haven't had a chance to think up yet is a viscous antagonist fighting against what it takes to create success.” This type of psychological construct is often present in large companies – where those cultures require always having answers for every single detail at your fingertips. Having an ever-present concern about the things you can’t control can unintentionally make incredibly talented innovation leaders feel limited, cautious and hesitant in their ability to deliver something extraordinary.
This “unknown competitor” also seems to be one of the big differences between entrepreneurial thinking and big company thinking... the latter which can create symptoms of spin, angst and second guessing: even when the team knows they are smart, capable and doing the right thing. Large companies often train their people to have everything “buttoned up” asking: do we know every detail, have we thought of all possibilities, are we ready for any contingency? Oddly enough, when we work with either entrepreneurs or the most creative innovation teams, the operating mindset can be very different. Those groups often highlight how they pursue their innovation challenges with single minded purpose and try to nail the strategic intent of the biggest platformable opportunity without “sweating the small stuff.” Perhaps easier said than done, but it’s always worth a moment of self reflection to ask yourself: am I more concerned about the unknown competitor or about nailing the overall innovation opportunity?