Three Ways To Flip Risk Aversion & Unlock Innovation

Three Ways To Flip Risk Aversion & Unlock Innovation

Zoe Aitken (lead image) is the head of consulting at leading behavioural science and innovation consultancy Inventium and has over 20 years’ experience helping organisations develop customer-centric growth strategies and innovation. In her latest post for B&T, Aitken offers surefire tips to unlock anyone’s or any team’s innovative side…

Fear of failure is one of the biggest barriers to innovation. Yet it’s almost impossible to successfully innovate without experiencing some failures along the way. There’s no avoiding the fact that innovation is risky business. And often the higher the risk, the higher the reward. However, for most of us, getting comfortable with failure doesn’t come easy (putting it mildly). In fact, we’re biologically programmed to avoid taking risks and prioritise safety and survival. Which is why leaders must strategically implement measures to help employees overcome risk aversion to unleash innovation. Below are three strategies to help get your team more comfortable with risk-taking.

  1. Promote psychological safety

Through studying over 180 teams over two years, Google identified that having psychological safety was one of the most critical elements of high-performing teams. Coined by Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety refers to the idea that someone is free to express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions without fear of negative consequences. And we know that it’s essential for fostering innovation.

Teams need to feel safe expressing their ideas, challenging the status quo, and sharing failures to innovate. And this realisation prompted Google to prioritise psychological safety as a key aspect of team building. One example of this is their ‘Googler 2 Googler Program’ (or g2g) which is a peer-based teaching network, where employees are encouraged to provide feedback to their peers. The program promotes open and constructive communication and allows employees to offer suggestions and provide support to one another. 

  1. Reward behaviours as well as outcomes

Like with anything, when it comes to innovation, you need to measure and reward what matters. Rewarding employees for the success and performance of innovation can feel tempting, however it can overlook the more critical ingredient of ‘how’ the success was achieved i.e., the behaviours.

Long-term innovation success comes from team members embodying the right behaviours consistently over time, day in and day out. So, if you want to encourage these behaviours then you also need to hero and reward them. Which could mean rewarding innovative behaviours even if they don’t always lead to outstanding results.

Tata Group’s ‘Dare to Try’ award is a great example of this, designed to encourage a culture of risk-taking. ‘Dare to Try’ winners are those who have made courageous innovation attempts that have failed. They’ve demonstrated all the right innovative behaviours however, for whatever reason, couldn’t launch their idea. Tata Group reports that participation in this category has increased one hundred times since they first introduced it, and that a culture of risk-taking is slowly catching on.

  1. Set learning-based objectives

The types of objectives that you set for your team influence their behaviours as well as their approach to risk. Performance-based goals, such as revenue targets and growth figures, can promote more risk averse behaviours. This is because there is little flex to them, meaning you either achieve them or you don’t. Or put another way, you either succeed or fail, which can feel scary to our inner perfectionist.

On the other hand, learning-based objectives switch the team into a learning mindset. When employees feel supported and encouraged to learn from their failures, they’re more likely to explore unconventional ideas that can lead to innovation success.

When Whirlpool launched Gladiator (their market-leading garage storage solutions) the team spent six months focused on learning. They were entering a new category, so rather than have the pressure of performance-based objectives, the team set themselves learning objectives and ran experiments. This encouraged them to take more risks and be open to the idea of failure in the pursuit of learning.

Failure can feel scary, and its human nature to want to avoid it. But when framed in the right way we can help tame our team’s inner perfectionist and get comfortable with risk-taking.


Please login with linkedin to comment

Inventium Zoe Aitken

Latest News

The Case For Nature: Let The Media & Advertising Industries Tell A Story & Tell It Well
  • Advertising

The Case For Nature: Let The Media & Advertising Industries Tell A Story & Tell It Well

Last year, Siddarth Shrikanth published The Case for Nature: Pioneering Solutions for the Other Planetary Crisis. Catherine de Clare caught up with him at the Jaipur Literary Festival in India this year. Shrikanth currently works as a director on the Investment team at Just Climate, a sustainability-focused investment fund chaired by former US vice president Al […]