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Is credibility stopping you from innovating?

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It’s fairly well known that our workplaces are not ideal environments for giving or receiving feedback.  Despite the fundamental role it plays in the formation of a sense and respond enterprise, many of our organizations are a veritable feedback desert.

So it’s important that whatever feedback we do receive is taken on board.  Except, that doesn’t really happen.  We often find a number of reasons why the feedback we’ve just received should be ignored, especially if it’s critical in some way.

One of the more common reasons we deploy is one of credibility.  The person’s never run a department like mine, or they’re not suitably senior in the organization, how could they possibly have any credibility when it comes to my unique situation?  Why on earth should I take what they say seriously?

You’re probably quite familiar with these kind of thoughts, and you may believe them to be perfectly rational.  After all, the credibility of the giver is important as it helps to support their opinions, doesn’t it?

Often, but not always.  Sometimes, the best insights come from people with little to no track record in your line of work.  Sometimes the best innovations arrive via people who are able to look at your situation with a completely fresh pair of eyes, and are not beholden to the ways things normally work.

How credible are the ideas?

Earlier this year for instance, I wrote about the story of William Sims, a junior office in the Navy around the turn of the 20th century.  He wanted to adopt a new way of gunning that would improve accuracy by around 3,000%.

The problem being that they weren’t interested whatsoever.  Despite repeated efforts to prove the effectiveness of the new technique, Sims was stonewalled by Navy chiefs.  No amount of data or reports would convince them otherwise, and it wasn’t until Sims was fired and resorted in writing directly to the President himself that change took place.

He lacked credibility in the eyes of his superiors, and so his thoughts and ideas were discounted not because of how credible they were, but because he himself was not credible.

Alas, such is his subsequent status in the Navy that he has a commemorative stamp made in his honour.

A modern incarnation

Of course, this is still an issue that we fight against all the time.  I’ve written previously about how the onboarding tactics and processes used by an organization can often stymie innovation because they ram home the way things are, and end up squashing the thoughts and insights of people fresh to a particular scene.

Those in power hold the credibility, so it’s their opinions that count.  If we as individuals, and collectively as organizations, are to truly aspire towards sense and respond status, then we need to find a way to overcome this credibility block, and ensure thoughts and feedback are judged solely on their merits.

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