Coach Your Own Self: Unfettered Mental Innovation

peterPeter Burchard is a multi-sector consultant, university instructor, and author. He has served as a city manager, health care executive, and as a board member for numerous organizations. He was the city manager of Naperville, Illinois and village manager of Hoffman Estates, Illinois. He served as the chief operating officer for inVentiv Medical Management in Augusta, GA. He serves on the board for the NIU Alumni Association and GreenFields-Mill Creek, a continuing care residence. Previously, Peter served on the boards of Hoffman Estates Medical Center, the Suburban Law Enforcement Association, and the Alliance for Innovation. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northern Illinois University. Reach Peter at:  peterburchard.com


What do you remember about the times when you were on the edge of a new insight or action and you hesitated?  A breakthrough might have happened, could have happened, but didn’t happen. Something other than the new idea prevailed.

To what extent do you look back and ask “What if?”  Do you ask yourself “What kept me from trying that new idea or listening to another?” To what extent is your self-defense and self-talk the best explanation for saying “No?”

We need new and unfettered approaches for seeing problems and opportunities differently. (Tweet This)

Think about this declaration: “I will bring more of me to life by how I think about innovation!”  What a wonderful possibility. Your deeper resourcefulness emerges because you created the right desire and circumstances. You helped to create the right culture and encouraged deeper conversations. You started with your own thinking, intent, and words. Critically important, you learned to push-back against the inclination for sameness. You see this mindset as a better way to serve.

Recently, I taught a master’s degree level class in innovation. We covered the processes of innovation. We studied the idea of an innovative mind. We discussed the many definitions of innovation. We dug deep into disruptive innovation.  We learned that innovation has many forms and treatments.

In this column, my emphasis is on sharpening your mental preparedness for innovation. (Tweet This)

Here are some ideas for opening that door:

  1. Resist the temptation to go along with your current thinking. See how you are. Let new and different have a larger say in your mind. For example, be determined to see problems and roadblocks from the perspective of others. Put your view on hold. Encourage empathy for different points of view. Learn to be curious about what others don’t like or agree with. Resist the inclination to be defensive over prior decisions.
  2. Related to the above, double down on your inquiry skills. One or two questions won’t build rapport and opportunity. Explore at length what others (co-workers, professional journals, customers, surveys, citizens) say and think. Create new thoughts based on the combined thoughts of others and what you’ve learned. Encourage others to make inquiry of you.
  3. Watch out for self-deception and a belief that you’ve already conquered the skills of innovation. Recognize the stories you tell yourself that may be keeping you and others from being more innovative and relevant.
  4. Avoid people who make it a practice to squash ideas. Ask them about their reluctance. Also avoid people who like to cut off discussion and say “Can’t we move on.” Deep innovation requires new found patience.
  5. Don’t define being rational as how you think. Redefine rational as being the practice of thinking with others deeply involved – where resistance, ideas, questions, new data and “what ifs” are incubated. Create a process and discipline for innovation and creative thinking. Call it, as others do, a “skunk-works.”
  6. Look for a method for having thoughtful, fun and rigorous conversations. I highly recommend the book titled Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono. The author’s methods are used world-wide to practice great conversations. The conduct of conversations and rigor in thinking is an essential starting point.
  7. Do not rush to solutions. Often, the rush to solve problems is also the rush to stay the same – to solve matters around the edges only – to get something off your to-do list. Quick problem solving is so tempting. Instead, intentionally let some problems go unsolved while expecting new thinking and effort. Let anxiety over problems grow. Unfetter people from coming to you. Even the routine reply of “What would you do?” can reinforce sameness and over-reliance on the boss. Cut the cord; leave it cut.
  8. Stop saying silly things to your subordinates and co-workers like “Be more positive” and “You need to come to me with solutions not just problems.” Instead, talk to them at length about what they see.
  9. Explore your resistance to new ideas and approaches. How quick are you to put up a “No” sign while saying you support new ideas? Let people get under your skin. Ask yourself how your own resistance is a roadblock to innovation. Spend time learning about your own self and how you might service an old perspective.
  10. Keep an eye out for those who are more open to new ideas and risk taking. Encourage them. Your semi-pro innovators are less likely to ask for permission. Unleash them. They’ll know when to check in.
  11. Spend time learning about what practices create the right culture for innovation. What innovative thinking processes do you expect from others? Edward de Bona may have been the most significant contributor to this approach.  Study lateral thinking – a term he coined.
  12. There are many kinds of innovation. Some innovation occurs because of a process improvement. Some innovation is tied to a new product or technology. Deeper innovation is likely the result of abandoning current methods and looking for a disruptive solution. Look for and practice all types of innovation.

We face a serious problem – our natural way of thinking constrains our possibilities. Do I romance how I currently think? My gross limiting factor may be how I constrain my current thinking. We may not see how our biases, experiences, beliefs, words and pride prevent us from a deeper and higher level of innovation and leadership. Consequently, in time, we become less relevant.

Let the ideas above trigger a better mindset. Let these ideas assure you that you are on the right path. Now is your time for unfettered mental innovation.

Write Peter at peter@peterburchard.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: