When we talk about innovation we say it is motion. Until there is movement or change in the market, you cannot call your invention or idea an innovation. Emotions at work can either support or hinder innovation. They can be strong drivers for action, change and movement, and keep people alert and aware of signals in their environment or become uncontrollable, completely unproductive or even freeze creativity. Finding the “right” level of emotions or as I call it “emotional sweet spot” is key to powered innovation.
Emotional sweet spot of innovation
Now, let’s be honest, if there is no emotion, there is no drive, no movement. Neutral means no power one way or another. It is standing still, being contemplative or meditative. And that’s a great feeling. But for innovation sake, that’s not quite the most useful state to get things moving.
And yes, of course, too much emotion might create havoc in your teams. From depressed employees lacking the energy or motivation to consider a new opportunity, to misdirected anger toward yet misunderstood new HR policy, from executive teams frozen with fear of making the wrong investment or not seeing long term win to overenthusiastic startup team blindly going into a wall.
The emotional sweet spot is in between these two extremes, but it is a narrow window. Too little emotions and we’re not feeling concerned or bothered and just a little too much and we feel too physiologically different (too much adrenaline or cortisol or endorphins) to be acting rationally.
Emotions give us extra data, like our intuition black box, we can perceive/sense something but not completely process or fully analyse the data. Because it is a chemical feeling, it is not always understandable. We are unfortunately not bilingual in hormonal language. So what I’m proposing is to roughly decode four main emotions and translate them into innovation talk:
Emotions to anticipate the future
Emotions in the range of fear (from anxiety to terror) and joy (from jolly to ecstatic) are triggered by the anticipation of an immediate or anticipated, real or imagined, pain or pleasure. Since innovation can be about predicting the future (or at least guessing), emotions can give your teams extra data beyond the cold intellectual analysis of trends. Don’t believe me? Let’s see how it works:
Fear is the anticipation of pain. In organisations, when it is nonexistent, we might think it’s great, and we do need times when we don’t have to worry about the future. However, too long periods of being without fear, might lead to complacency, whether through lack of awareness (not seeing the new entrants) or pure denial – believing they will have no impact at all. This is how some big leaders have failed in a big way, they didn’t feel or listen to fear as they thought they were invulnerable.
To innovate is to take risks, and fear can be a good ally if not let completely loose, as then it might become a total hindrance. Fear, in its sweet spot, helps you identify the risks, the future challenges and issues. Hence allowing you to take corrective actions. Ignoring fear may result in overoptimistic predictions, leading you blindly to failure. Here I’m not saying fear will prevent you from failing, but it will keep you alert to it, meaning you’ll be more willing to learn from it.
Joy is the appreciation and anticipation of pleasure (in all possible forms from sensual to intellectual). Again an excess of emotion will not be useful for innovation and performance. Being ecstatic is not an ideal state to think, implement or learn from an innovation, as extasy short-circuits your rational brain which you need for an organised collective action. However, a good dose of joy will keep motivation and engagement up in teams which might be facing the troughs of the innovation adventure. Joy is about creating that vision, and leading teams towards it.
Fear and joy are strong drivers for action: moving away from pain or towards pleasure. This works not only for your teams to spark change and engaging in new ways, but also for your markets.
Market empathy is the capacity to understand the emotions your market might be feeling. Really understanding your market in order to create value for it, goes beyond the knowing of demographics, listening to what they say they want, it is about deeply understanding their drivers, and empathising with their emotional states.
Understanding the fear your market might be experiencing in a situation, or might anticipate in a novelty product is key not only to communicate and pitch but also to drive your iterations. One of the consulting questions we often ask is: “what pain are you relieving your market from?” And it is obvious to see how fear is the driver for the weapon market, but many other markets are driven by fear. New parents are facing the big unknown and need to be reassured they will do a good job and not endanger their child. Travelers need to be reassured that they will arrive safely to their destination. Organisations need to feel that their precious data are secured.
It is the same for joy, although we like that one better. Think of all the different markets where joy is the driver: the entertainment market, obviously, but luxury and food industries too. And when you think beyond technology, joy may spread to IoT. This example of the LoveBox is interesting, although I’m not sure it will survive beyond the fun novelty for Christmas effect, for grandma’s who do not use text messages or internet. It connects people, and sends love via a connected box. Who doesn’t want to feel loved?
Emotions to change the future
Other emotions in the range of sadness (from a little down to depression) and anger (from frustration to rage) are triggered by a feeling of unbalance: « something is not right », « something is lacking ». Since innovation is about creating the future, and changing the status quo, how about using sadness and anger to give some « humpf » to your innovation?
Sadness is triggered by feeling smaller, lacking, it is about loss. It is about feeling limited, and often powerless. This emotion might look like really useless for innovation as we want energy, actions, strength, to create and take risks. But sadness, at the right level, keeps you humble, aware of your limitations and encourages you to seek support, to create a team, to have advisors, coaches, to gather your strengths. Sadness keeps you from overburdening yourself and your organisation with unrealistic tasks. In innovation strategy, small under the radar steps are often much better than full blown multi-billion research and development programmes.
Of course, the personal development industry, and other consulting and support services are driven by sadness, by the feeling of powerlessness and the need for support of individuals and organisations alike. But other sectors can learn from that emotion by answering the questions: “what does your market feel it’s missing or lacking? Can you deliver something that will make them feel whole again?” Empathizing with their sense of lack can spark new ideas and new business (or not-for-profit too) opportunities.
Anger is triggered by a judgement based on values, beliefs or desires: « the situation is not what it should be, what I want it to be! » The perceived unbalance is a strong driver for change. Especially that the chemistry of anger gives a lot of passionate energy. Well to a point, beyond the emotional sweet spot, chaos might ensue. Harnessing the energy of anger can support wider strategies of culture change which may be necessary for innovation to flourish. Or it can rally a team around a cause they wish to defend. Renegade furious innovators within a company can do wonders, even if they’re not liked at first.
Organisations who want to change the world, like using green energy, for example, need the persistence and endurance of purposeful anger to drive big changes. They can connect to joy to envision a better future, but anger based on strong beliefs can be much more powerful and influencing.
Powered innovation is finding the emotional sweet spot, which drives your thinking, steers you away from danger, helps you see new opportunities, gives you energy, inspires your creativity and helps you connect with your market, might take several iterations, but it is so worth the risk. And if your company culture embraces emotional awareness in your teams, then that will be one big step towards better market perceptivity.