The Red Queen Hypothesis.

In this article, I am going to explain how to accelerate your team’s capacity for innovation, even working in different ways than you did before the pandemic. In fact, innovation is about the only way that companies today can maintain the loyalty of customers and creative talent. Despite its objective importance, the situation of companies is not very good. A Harvard Business Review study tells us that 94% of CEOs admit that their companies are not very good at innovating.

We must recognize that the vast majority of our organizations are either based on a hierarchical culture or belong to conservative business environments. Therefore, they are not very fond of innovations. But that does not mean that they should remain immobile. Today’s world moves very fast. It’s like the accelerated application of the Red Queen hypothesis, do you know it? This hypothesis stems from Lewis Carrol’s book, Alice Through the Looking-Glass (the second part of Alice in Wonderland). In the illustration I detail the paragraph in question.


Indeed, the inhabitants of the country of the Red Queen must run as fast as they can, just to stay where they are, as the country moves with them. In other words. Ultimately, to survive, you must go twice as fast as the competitor. And that can only be achieved by creating an ecosystem where innovation and agility are fostered. If you stop, you go back …

Some actions to accelerate the creative thinking of your team

Obviously, getting that ecosystem is not an easy task. Internal inertias tend to go in the opposite direction. Trying to change them requires you to promote disruptive thinking by infusing new perspectives. It is about that, as a leader, you are a catalyst of ideas, challenges and challenges directed to the team. But not only that, it is about doing it continuously and systematically.

Here are three simple guidelines on actions that you can take to keep your organization open to innovation and new ideas.

First action: generate time slots for innovation

In new work environments that is always difficult because people go from one meeting to another without a solution of continuity. It is about that, from the leadership, you force those times of innovation. How? First, scheduling or scheduling separate time to ‘think’. In this sense, it is good that you promote reserving spaces ‘without agenda’ among the team. You can take the example of Google, which introduced its Project 20% many years ago, whereby all employees can dedicate a fifth of their time to developing or creating an idea or initiative that is related to something that the company is dedicated. Of that 20%, successful projects such as Google Maps or Google Images were born. But it must be recognized that initiatives of this type require a certain order. At the Mountain View company you need the approval of your manager to start your initiative. I know that you will be thinking that your company is not Google, but if you manage to get your team to put up the ‘do not disturb’ sign during a time of their day, you will be increasing, at least, the time for continuous improvement processes.

Another practice may be to create habits of thinking together. It would be like the B side of the previous album. It involves asking others to share ideas and things they have noticed, and discussing them together at the team level. They are, therefore, spaces to promote activities related to continuous improvement processes (CIP, in English). This implies lower levels of innovation, which clearly has an impact, also in the medium term, in a reduction in competitiveness. And by the way, openly discuss the things you are considering.

Finally, you can open your company to bottom up innovation. Many organizations believe that in innovation the old hierarchical management schemes can be replicated. Nothing is further from reality. The hierarchy is centered on the existing strategy. In this context, employees tend to avoid putting forward original ideas because they sense that anything outside of conventional thinking will not win the support of those at the top. To encourage it, you can open an idea lab. It is about establishing a series of items on which management is interested in innovating (that would be the only hierarchical action ‘). From there, let teams or individuals organize themselves autonomously to apply to those challenges. This means that each person or team of people can propose a solution to the challenge posed. It is not too difficult to hire a software that helps you organize and energize these initiatives. With it, you will be able to gamify the process and give it a final recognition (presentation to the management team of the finalist proposals and prizes for the winners).

Second action: open the organization to new ways of thinking.

It would be about encouraging team members to spend time with clients, with other companies or with academic environments. In this sense, for example P&G launched a project to make employees coexist with their customers. This is especially important for back office teams (HR, technology, finance, etc…), because they usually have functions on the business perimeter. To do this, for example, always run away from ‘in-company’ learning programs, which do not allow the exchange of experiences with people from other organizations, with other businesses and other cultures. Another practice may be to observe the behaviors and needs of employees who are ‘on edge’. I am referring to those who do not limit themselves to following the herd, but are capable of withdrawing and, at the outer borders of corporate culture, experiencing other ways of doing, of thinking, of communicating. This involves ‘monitoring’ innovators and early adopters, according to Everett Rogers’ scheme of the diffusion of innovation theory. In short, they are true catalysts for change and, normally, opinion leaders within the framework of the informal organization chart. A company with a good talent map is a company that has identified these groups and uses them as an engine of innovation.

Third action: Open the organization to new ways of thinking.

It would be about encouraging team members to spend time with clients, with other companies or with academic environments. In this sense, for example P&G launched a project to make employees coexist with their Third action: Open your organization to new ways of thinking.

Many companies limit themselves to innovating from within, thinking that no one knows their business better than they. I know managers who still think that the best innovation comes from the most expert, people who have managed to go beyond 10,000 hours of sustained practice. Nothing is further from reality, against more expert, more concentric gaze. You lose perimeter vision, and it is from the perimeter that the best ideas arrive. To increase the perimeter vision of your employees, you can use some very simple practices.

The first would be to share articles or new trends or ideas. I remember that when a century-old company needed to inoculate the virus of lateral thinking among its management team, it designed a program, Digital Fridays, which consisted of bringing provocative speakers from very different backgrounds such as startups, technology companies or directly scientists. It was a sustained program for two years and the degree of digitization of the workforce was measured, resulting in a success.

Other little practices can help you ‘open the mind’ of your collaborators. Thus, build a ‘Notes from Address’ routine. This is a very simple exercise: write notes to the team about the things that you have discovered together in the past month. Along with these learnings, the mistakes made in the team in the same period must be recognized. In certain cultures (geographical, but also corporate), error tends to be seen as something to hide or as a fear (of retaliation). But if you want to innovate, you must start by recognizing that a team that is never wrong is either a team that does not make decisions, or a team that hides its mistakes. You have to keep a record of the mistakes, accompanied by the lessons learned. For people to be honest about it, you must generate a climate of trust, and even, if you can, celebrate or reward the mistakes made (as long as they involve the corresponding learning). It is, therefore, a matter of keeping a logbook of innovation / learning.

Reverse Q&A sessions are also very helpful. I mean that normally team meetings end up deriving questions from the collaborators towards the leader. This exercise is just the opposite. It is about that as a leader you promote an open conversation towards different points of view, as a methodology for exploring ideas. For this, the topics of debate can be incorporated into the agenda and the leader can only ask questions, not answers. The success of this dynamic will come when the greatest number of questions begin with a why.

In summary:

With these simple actions, among others, you will be in a position to start the path of innovation.

Remember that innovative leadership is one of the ones that can help you the most to keep your teams committed. A boss who leans on the old dogmas is a candidate for his employees to march in search of growth spaces.

Author: Ricardo Alfaro

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