It’s so hard to let go.

We humans – and workplace professionals – are products of a range of things forged in our minds, hearts and spirits.

Our views, opinions and therefore our truths are formed by our experiences and our computation of the world.  We only have to look at recent referendum and voting activities which defy “experts’; numerologists; analysts and trend-spotters.  For we have orthodoxies, beliefs, values, truths.  We may be taught, indoctrinated. We hold biases, prejudices, assumptions.  We are as unpredictable as ever despite use of big data; behavioural economics; and algorithms.

And our holding on; digging in; hunkering down – is the perfect recipe to NOT innovate.

Yet letting go – feeling the fear and doing it anyway; flattening an anxiety peak; dropping a bias – is where innovation could flourish.

Let’s look at our economic system.  Every 8 or so years, there’s a bit of convulsive shock.  Dot com crash in 2000; sub-prime mortgages in 2008; Brexit and Trumponomics in 2016?  So if we know this, why the heck don’t we do something about it?  Tinker with the economic model to prevent a failsafe.  It’s hardly demonstrating black box thinking is it?

One of the problems here is we’re NOT LETTING GO of the current orthodoxies and beliefs that are stifling our innovation energy and opportunity.  We’re not getting over biases and assumptions and allowing new thinking to flow.  We’re not letting go of our arrogance, fear, indoctrinated ways; to bring some excitement and fresh thinking to areas which are troublesome, tricky and even tumultuous.

If it’s that easy – letting go – why don’t we just start doing it then?

Well the reasons we’re not letting go are partly brain science and partly systemic.

We’re wired to find the easy path in thinking – not to waste any mental processing energy and besides, if we KNOW something it’s difficult to UNKNOW that so we almost have a pre-programmed element to our thinking.

We’re also guilty of the “if it were that simple, someone would have done it by now…” assumption or bias.  Well, someone has to be first so don’t assume it’s not been done somewhere.  The knowing / doing gap proves all such assumptive thinking is hindering us in a number of ways.

OK – so let’s say we realise this and may be thinking of letting go to start innovating – how do we do that..?

There is a bank of research and a model for doing so.  Otto Sharmer’s outstanding Theory U work.  He has crafted a U-shaped model based on his work in research and lecturing at MIT.  It is formed around a journey of letting go – of non-productive but hardwired ways of thinking and being – passing a point of what Otto calls percepting – into an upward curve of reinvention and rebirth where innovation is the key to finding a new you / way of living and being.

The model is applicable for people individually, for teams, for organisations, social businesses; communities, for socio-political reformation and cultural change.

It has 3 core operating principles – open mind; open heart; open will.  Being open to new sensory experiences and sensing processes within yourself.  Using them to change the things around you that may be impacting on you negatively or in a constraining manner.

The journey starts with a downloading phase of your past patterns.  By this it means some kind of behaviours; beliefs, habits and norms inventory.  This describes your inner voice of judgement and requires a very honest self-appraisal and a sensing exercise on what in this list / download needs attending to and changing.  The next stage in the downward U is to redirect.  And through the voice of criticism you have, sense again, what the redirecting of thinking and being looks like.   The near deepest well of the U is to consider the voice of fear and allow yourself to let go.

It’s this aspect that got me thinking not just about personal or systemic change, but on innovation.  How can we REALLY innovate when we don’t let go?

Nokia – didn’t let go of Symbian as an operating platform, Android and IOS killed it.  No matter how it then tried to innovate and its partnership with Windows went, it was too late.  Nokia needed to let go sooner in order to innovate.

Of course I could list a hundred more companies here who should let go sooner but you get the point.

In order to innovate, you have to let go.

In order to innovate – say – your recruitment processes/policy, you may have to let go of your trust, fixation and belief that a 3 person panel and competency based questions are best.  What if they didn’t exist?  What if you had to create something totally new in this space?

Letting go is the liberation of the lateral thought; the escape from the prison of the present; and a firm ousting of the comfort of the known.

Theory U incidentally then has an upward journey based on letting come – new experiences, new ideas, new people, new factors, new beliefs; and is followed by crystallising those into a vision and an intention; using enacting/activism to move up to prototyping (a classic innovation techniques) and then into embodying (the vision/intention) and into performing (the new habit; thinking; bias control whatever).

Yet we’re attached to things and letting go isn’t easy.   It is in itself perhaps a learned skill.

So I guess I’d urge you to do 3 things here:

  1. Consider deeper investigation into Theory U – I really haven’t done this marvellous work any justice here but given a tiny snapshot of it.
  2. Consider your own personal innovation journey – what will you need to let go of and work through the U to come out the other side with new performing ways? You will have to become good at letting go; and
  3. Be the one advocating or challenging others on what they’re not letting go of.

For without letting go we may never feel the weightless buoyancy of true innovation.