Even Brilliant People Fail To Realize Potential Because They Stop Themselves

Lights out!

This post is for all of us who struggle to navigate an ever-changing and complex world.

It’s for the game changers, challengers and change agents. It’s for the visionaries, leaders and innovators. It’s for anyone trying to make the world a better place.

We Learned Early How To Kill Innovation

Each of us was born into this world with a natural curiosity to explore. As kids, we tinkered with toys and tried new things. We learned by trial and error. We were discoverers and experimenters.

Sometimes our parents stopped that exploration. They asked us to respect their boundaries and limits. Teachers asked us to conform. Unfortunately, from a young age, we learned to stop ourselves. We stopped exploring and experimenting.

During our tweens and teens we learned that knowledge is important. We started emphasizing what we know instead of what we didn’t know. We were taught to find the one correct answer and reject alternatives. So we become increasingly assertive in our knowledge and disinterested in anything that might prove us wrong. We gradually lost our natural curiosity.

Good news. You still have the capability to be a highly, creative, innovative individual. You can become more curious, still experiment and become more of a discoverer. You just need to get out of your own way!

Your Personal Operating System

Consider a computer’s operating system for a moment. It operates in the background and we rarely notice it until something goes awry. It must be working properly or all of the software and programming fails. It’s the same way with how we respond to four critical decisions each day.

Our choices and the patterns that they form describe our personal operating system each day. They isolate the mindset that we have. It’s not the skills that we each have but the underlying assumptions, beliefs and attitudes that guide our behaviors.

Four Critical Choices We Face Each Day

Dennis Stauffer’s Innovation Essentials identifies the route to understanding the thinking processes that lead to innovation. Consequently, he also identifies the processes that stall people into stagnant spirals.

His Innovator Mindset has identified the characteristics that make great, highly effective innovators. These traits reflect the personal choices we make each day. When these behaviors are combined, we can see amazing results.

According to Stauffer, the four critical choices that we face each day are whether we prefer to:

1. Know or imagine.
2. Apply or explore.
3. Validate or challenge.
4. Reinforce or discover.

Know Or Imagine

Imagination is underrated. It can be more valuable than knowledge. We tend not to trust our imaginations because they are not as reliable as knowledge. We don’t trust our own ideas and certainly not the ideas of others because they are not grounded in our knowledge. This is one of the ways we stop ourselves from tapping into our creative genius. As innovators we need to become comfortable with exercising our imagination and valuing what it brings us.

Apply Or Explore

It’s through exploring our ideas and gathering feedback that we are able to improve our imagination. When we only look to knowledge for ideas, we just apply what we know. That can become a limiting factor. Once we realize that there is an uncertainty in any action we take, courage has new meaning. We need to have the courage to explore and the humility to respond to failure. Great innovators have the courage to explore and the humbleness to recognize their mistakes.

Validate Or Challenge

The ability to make accurate observations is probably the most overlooked behavior of innovators. Our observations usually fall short of the truth. Why? We get what we search for and little else. If we are looking for confirmation of our knowledge, we typically find it. Unfortunately, we also miss those exceptions that might prompt us to think again. Making accurate observations is harder than it looks. Learning from feedback requires accurate data. Most of us engage in naive realism. We assume that what we see happened. We also assume that what we didn’t see when we were observing also didn’t happen. One way to remedy this is to compare our observations with those from others. Embracing a healthy skepticism and a willingness to challenge our assumptions leads to innovation.

Reinforce Or Discover

Innovators prefer to discover instead of confirm and reinforce. They are deliberate about actively considering multiple explanations and slow to settle on one right answer. They seek diverse perspectives and alternate interpretations. That’s how they get fresh insights. Sometimes they realize they need to imagine, explore and challenge more before they discover a new breakthrough.

Which of these four behaviors do you think is most difficult to do? What barriers hold us back from using our imaginations, exploring, challenging conventional wisdom and discovering new ideas?

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  1. Johnson Cook says:

    Ha, Jeff! We were on the same wavelength today. We need to push ourselves and each other to overcome these obstacles to realize our potential. It’s not natural sometimes, and it’s not easy. Even though I’m a novice blogger compared to you, I enjoyed writing about my thoughts on the matter today as well. http://johnsoncook.com/potential-sucks/

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading, sharing and continuing the discussion. Also, thanks for the link to your post with similar thoughts. Good stuff.

  2. […] Even Brilliant People Fail To Realize Potential Because They Stop Themselves by Jeff Hurt. […]

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