One of the critical parts of the innovation process is getting our great ideas to spread. Diffusion is often the stumbling block for innovative new ideas. There is a section towards the end of Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky that provides some interesting insights into how to attack this problem.
Belsky describes a storytelling workshop that he took which was run by Jay O’Callahan. One aspect of the workshop that is striking is that all of the feedback in it was given in the form of appreciations. After each person told a story, the other participants were not allowed to criticise either the story or the delivery – instead they were all asked to comment on what they appreciated.
Here is a terrific talk from O’Callahan in which he explains this and few of his other key ideas. Well, he doesn’t explain them, he tells us some stories that make the points:
Here is how Belsky describes the benefits of this approach:
The exchange of appreciations is meant to help you build upon your strengths, with the underlying assumption that a creative craft is made extraordinary through developing your strengths rather than obsessing over your weaknesses. And I noticed that a natural recalibration happens when you commend someone’s strengths: their weaknesses are lessened as their strengths are emphasized. As my storytelling compatriots recounted their stories a second and third time, the points of weakness withered away naturally as the most beautiful parts became stronger.
Or, as O’Callahan says in the talk, quoting cellist Pablo Casals – “we have to leave it to the ignorant and the stupid to just point out flaws, we have to be glad about any bit of beauty.”
There’s an important innovation idea in this. Take a look at this cartoon from Tom Fishburne:
That’s what happens with criticism – we chip away at anything that makes our idea unique or interesting, until there’s nothing left. That’s where I think appreciation could help.
Take a new idea, and instead of looking for weakness, thing about what makes it great. How could you emphasize that even more? Well, do that. Don’t patch up weakness, build on your strengths. Be great at one thing, not average at everything.