Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Quantum Mindset

Last week I wrote about how it is possible to believe in two opposing viewpoints on the future.  We’ll continue on the thread of quantum superposition this week, with what I call the “Quantum Mindset.”  Let’s explore how the ability to hold two opposing views in your mind is a key tool for innovation.

Being in the middle sucks.  Predicting an “average future” makes it hard to discover innovative insights that will drive inventive products.  In the same way, having no opinion on a topic or a “carefully guarded slight preference” can be limiting.  The ability to be a passionate evangelist or a strong skeptic can drive projects forward at a much faster pace.

Every team needs an evangelist.  This is the heart of the team, someone who believes in the potential of the project and can aggressively sell this vision to partners.  The evangelist drives action, gets people to jump on the bandwagon, and motivates the team to think big and imagine success.  This is critical for the innovative process and is correlated with opening the funnel.  This optimism can drive the creation of an endless stream of new ideas.

However, you also need a skeptic.  Unbridled optimism can lead to group think and a tendency to hold onto an idea even after it has been proven wrong.  A good skeptic can focus the team.  By asking the tough questions, a skeptic can ensure that the team works on the hardest problems first and maintains an intellectual honesty when evaluating an idea.  This kind of thinking is especially necessary when closing the funnel and narrowing down options.

Most people naturally fall into the evangelist or skeptic role most of the time.  At a minimum, teams should have both personalities represented.  However, it is best if each person is able to play both roles.  It is easy for one person to always be the skeptic and then become associated with being a “downer”.  It can be unfair to always rely on one person to fill that role.  Additionally, it is important for everyone to be able to think critically about an idea and not get trapped into always being a salesperson.  I find that the best innovators can switch easily between these two roles, acting wildly optimistic in one moment, and then deeply challenging the next.  

This waffling back and forth can disturb people.  It can remind people of Two Face, a Batman villain that belong in the insane asylum.  How can people trust someone who seemingly changes their opinions so easily?  The way to approach this is to be clear that there is no right answer when predicting the future.  It is true that whatever idea is being discussed COULD be tremendously awesome.  At the same time, it is true that it might not work out as imagined.  When I switch between roles, I like to announce that I am doing just that.  I am taking on a role because that is what is needed at the moment.   You can be both the evangelist and the skeptic. Truly seeing the problems as they are requires you to be both.

This is your chance to say one thing and then say the opposite.  Like a good debater, try to argue the other side of every belief you have.  If you are naturally a skeptic, try to be the optimist for 30 minutes.   And if you naturally the evangelist, try focusing on the challenges instead.  It’ll give you empathy for those who naturally take the opposite role, and it’ll make you a more versatile innovator.