Generating creative energy to innovate

What if there is a way to create coherence, align people’s hearts and minds as well as build a healthy work environment that generates learning and results in organisational re-organisation and transformation? At ImagineNation™ we know that this can be done by transforming the creative tension and cognitive dissonance that disruption incurs into the vibrant and creative energy that leaders can make innovation happen.

Just think about how much easier it will be if innovation-led change strategies are designed, articulated, received and executed by people in the VUCA times of our Digital Age.

An innovation-led change strategy in organizations often begins with a clear reason why innovation is important. This is often communicated as a passionate purpose, aimed at aligning an organization, team or individual with a clear reason as to why the innovation-led change is so important. It also typically includes a vision, encapsulating a vivid picture to describe what it wants to be – in the form of the desired outcome from the valuable investments in executing an innovation-led change strategy.

Disrupting business as usual and results in creative tension

This disrupts people from their “business as usual malaise” as it most likely represents a very different picture of what the present state or current reality may look and feel like. It then results in creative tension and causing an unconscious cognitive dissonance within people, as to what this might really mean. People will also be challenges to connect to it and ascertain whether they can identify with it, or not.

As many of us are aware, the space between the present state and the desired outcome is the space where creative tensions and that cognitive dissonance live.  Because, it is where people’s neurological, emotional, visceral and cognitive challenges to the massive changes innovation causes and brings.  If not dealt with effectively, it will sabotage the healthy work environment, and inhibit any innovation led change efforts.

cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values”.

How cognitive dissonance affects people

Cognitive dissonance affects peoples’ autonomic nervous system, which operates largely automatically and outside of their conscious control.

It impacts on their whole being – physically emotionally and cognitively.

People in organizations who are already feeling overwhelmed by the constantly fast changing VUCA business environment may collapse into a set of “un-resourceful” states. We are all familiar with people who appear to be “frozen” or paralysed, apathetic and unmotivated when more changes are introduced.  Alternately, some people may collapse into “un-resourceful” states of high anxiety and become immobilised by their unconscious fears.

No matter which response dominates, both tend to create, in the work environment, conflict, discomfort and, creative tension.

Largely because of the invisible and unconscious disconnection that occurs between what is happening, or may happen in the future state when the purpose & the vision are achieved, and what beliefs each person holds to be true and real for them.

The passionate purpose and vision for the future, may have been clearly defined and articulated, within a safe and trusted environment. For people to understand, make meaning of and align to the desired future state, the organisation needs to ensure that their change led innovation plan is designed upfront to, holistically and systemically:

  • Resonate with people’s core values and beliefs,
  • Honour who people are, their core identities,
  • Support people’s inherent need for self-preservation.

Why is this important?

When these key elements are not included as a crucial, critical success factor in the design & execution of the change led innovation strategy, people become psychologically uncomfortable, anxious, confused & conflicted:

This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a belief of a person clashes with new evidence perceived by that person. When confronted with facts that contradict personal beliefs, ideals, and values, people will find a way to resolve the contradiction in order to reduce their discomfort”.

Activating within some people, a range of “un-resourceful “neurological, cognitive, emotional and visceral “states.” Depending on their unconscious survival, safety or security needs, most people will unconsciously and automatically do anything, to try to reduce their mental discomfort and their cognitive dissonance.

They will make some, or all of these cognitive strategies to avoid the anxiety, discomfort, tension or confusion by;

  • Avoiding; people will ignore, delete or deny the information, to move away for the pain or discomfort.
  • Distorting; people will exaggerate and make the change process bigger, more radical, important, dangerous that what it really is.
  • Disconfirming; people will resist and ignore a different mental model, or point of view, because it does not confirm their core beliefs.
  • Reassuring; people will seek assurance from others to validate or justify what they believe to be true.
  • Re-evaluating; people will re-evaluate or change the importance of existing, new ideas and facts.

What inhibits people’s readiness and receptivity to change led innovation?

These factors are normal human reactive responses that tend to increase and magnify people’s whole-being experience of cognitive dissonance.  Typically resulting in a range of either passive defensive behaviours that safely and securely move them away from the pain of the cognitive dissonance.

  • Behaviours might include blaming and shaming, justifying and denying what is really going on, and ducking for personal safety.

Or reacting in a range of aggressive defensive behaviours that sustain their personal safety and security and gives them a false sense of power over other people and the situation.

  • Behaviours might include opposing, arguing and contradicting, resisting and ignoring, being myopic, self-righteous and diminishing of others.

People may then feel a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and even be discouraged. All increasing their states of emotional tension, anxiety and diminishing their receptivity and readiness to an innovation-led change strategy. Making their ability to engage, enrol and implement the change processes involved in collaborating in executing the innovation strategy will be severely limited.

What might be another, more useful way?

It’s all about creating coherence, alignment and a healthy work environment that generates learning, collaboration, experimentation, re-organisation, and transformation.

  1. Choosing to see the gap between the vision and the current reality as a source of creative tension

The notion of “Creative Tension” was introduced by Peter Senge in the Fifth Discipline, describing the gap between the vision and the current reality as a potential source of “creative energy.” That truly creative people use this gap as a source for generating energy and intrinsic motivation for change and innovation.

  1. Facilitating new ways of applying creative tension to generate emergent outcomes

Generating energy and intrinsic motivation for change and innovation involves being able to acknowledge, work with and flow with people’s cognitive dissonance (not make it bad or wrong).

By applying disruption and cognitive dissonance to yourself and your people’s habitual ways of being, thinking and doing to dance with disruption and create a healthy work environment through:

  • Letting go of being “nice” and worrying about being politically correct to develop innovation or collaboration, whilst still being empathic and compassionate, when acknowledging the elephants in the room.
  • Artfully utilizing cognitive dissonance to intentionally create “collisions” between people’s values, beliefs, mental models and internal programming.
  • Sensing and creating “cracks” in the current reality to generate openings and thresholds in people’s minds to emerge possibilities and new ideas aligned to the vision for the future.
  • Enabling learning by embodying and enacting an extremely subtle artful and incredibly powerful generative skillset involving being intentionally provocatively competent, contrary and safely disruptive.
  1. Pull & not push people towards generating authentic change by taking a whole person perspective

When we understand that people function as a whole system, governed by a series of factors, which neurologically impact on their four core human structures;

  • Cognition – how we perceive, think and make meaning.
  • Feeling – how we emote, what we value and how we relate.
  • Willing – how we identify & preserve ourselves and mobilize ourselves to act.

This means that when we TELL people that they have to/must/need and PUSH them to innovate, what typically happens;

  • Cognition (head) = people get challenged as to how and who they think about or perceive themselves to be and will be unable to make meaning of the change.
  • Emotion (heart) = people will feel disconnected, may feel that a values misalignment or violation, isolated, diminished, vulnerable and powerless.
  • Will (gut) = people get uncomfortable, threatened, frustrated and exposed, will be risk-averse to protect themselves by avoiding making mistakes and being made wrong or punished for failing and being imperfect to preserve a sense of self.
  • Body (actions) = people will oppose, challenge and resist change to preserve self and play safe through inaction, resulting in an unwillingness and an inability to participate in the change process and take intelligent actions.

When leaders ASK people to innovate, clearly communicate the strategy, make it meaningful and purposeful we can then apply creative tension to be curious and imaginative and PULL them towards a better, brighter and more compelling future.

  • Cognition (head) = effecting clear artful communications (culture) that compel them to sense, perceive and align themselves with the innovation vision. By knowing why innovation-led change is meaningful AND important in value-adding ways, to themselves, organiSation and customers.
  • Emotion (heart) = creating values-based connections (culture) with the innovation-led change process, igniting feelings of excitement and passion around future possibilities, opportunities & benefits. To build receptivity and readiness to enrage in and collaborate with innovation-led change.
  • Will (gut) = creating a safe environment (culture), where people are trusted and respected and have permission to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them. As a positive, creative and rewarding strategic and systemic change journey for everyone involved (no blame, shame, envy or retribution).
  • Body (actions) = mobilizing, harnessing and maximizing potential & delivering emergent outcomes by taking intelligent actions that result in a healthy work environment.

What can you do about it?

Living in our fast-paced constantly changing VUCA business environment, many people are already suffering from both anxiety burnout and depression shutdown and are fearful of what is to come as the Digital Age relentlessly advances.

If this relates to your business environment, it might be useful to press your pause button, to take time out to retreat, reflect and dwell on how your people’s current thinking, feeling & willingness are impacting on your ability to execute your change or innovation strategy and:

  • Consider how to make your organization more coherent, by undertaking a cultural diagnostic to reveal both the supporting and restraining factors surrounding your change lead innovation strategy.
  • Teach and coach people to take self-responsibility for transforming their cognitive dissonance into creative energy for change.
  • Plan to create a safe, trusted and healthy work environment and organizational culture that generates learning, collaboration, experimentation, re-organisation and transformation true innovation requires.

Find out about The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate & deep personalized learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting October 22, 2019. It is a deep blended learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles & applications of a human-centered approach to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more.

Contact us now at to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.