Psychology behind Innovation
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Psychology behind Innovation


The human mind and the incredible ideas it can come up with are indeed interesting. But what drives these ideas? What must have influenced the founders of Swiggy or Zomato to introduce innovative platforms that connect consumers with local restaurants— something that revamped the Indian food industry? Innovation doesn’t simply mean coming up with new ideas but also bringing them into reality through implementation. More formally, innovation is “the creation and implementation of new processes, products, services and methods of delivery which result in significant improvements in outcomes, efficiency, effectiveness or quality” (Mulgan & Albury, 2003). This also differentiates innovation from invention and creativity

Having said that, these are also interrelated in some way. Creativity serves as the base for generating novel ideas and perspectives. Invention transforms these creative ideas into real solutions or discoveries. Finally, innovation brings these inventions to life by putting them to use in practical ways that create some value.

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What Drives Innovation?

Understanding the Psychology of Innovation can help understand what motivates humans towards innovation. Does necessity drive it, a response to boredom, or is it an influence of personality traits? Here are some of the factors that drive innovation—

Personality and Innovation

Personality not only sounds intriguing, but it is! Several research findings have confirmed the significant role of personality in influencing innovation. According to the Five Factor Model, certain traits together shape an individual’s personality. One among these traits, Openness to Experience, is associated with creativity and innovation, allowing individuals to explore new ideas and concepts. Schweizer (2006) emphasised its importance in shaping creativity and a healthy personality overall.

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Similarly, another trait, Introversion, is often looked down upon. Introversion allows for intuition, judgment and critical thinking. Reflective and reasonable thinking might spark innovative thoughts. An opposite personality trait, Extraversion, is also integral to innovation. It proves beneficial for individuals involved in selling innovative ideas, as it improves communication and social skills. Remember innovation is about the implementation of ideas— which is a social aspect.

Role of Emotions

It is highly unlikely that emotions have no role to play in innovation which is primarily considered to be a ‘cognitive’ task. Many executives prefer hiring people who are intellectually talented and can drive the company’s progress. However, one factor that is sometimes overlooked is the emotional dimension of innovation. It is more than just a cognitive process— it is highly emotional.

The act of producing something new or innovative entails stepping into the unknown, addressing fears, and learning from mistakes. We are conditioned from the beginning to avoid making mistakes and protect our ego, which limits our capacity to take chances and embrace uncertainty—both of which are necessary components of innovation.

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One important concern in encouraging innovation is building a psychologically safe atmosphere. Individuals in psychologically secure situations are empowered to take chances, challenge the status quo and voice opposing views without any fear of retribution. Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, found that psychological safety is crucial for organisational learning and innovation. Employees who feel psychologically protected are more inclined to share ideas, show initiative, and participate in new projects. 

High levels of arousal, whether good or negative, may energize people and improve their cognitive flexibility and problem-solving abilities, resulting in novel insights. Understanding emotional states is thus important for developing conducive environments that promote creative thinking and support innovation.

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Psychological Barriers to Innovation

Psychological barriers are internal blockages rooted in our beliefs, fears and attitudes that can hinder our normal way of functioning. In the context of innovation, these barriers can take several forms like fear of rejection, the weight of societal expectations, creative blocks and so on. Such obstacles may result in a lack of confidence, procrastination, and an aversion to risk-taking– which are all required for growth.

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Overall, personality determines innovation, with traits like openness to experience encouraging creativity and introversion enabling critical thinking. Emotions play a substantial role, as addressing uncertainties and taking risks are essential for innovation. Understanding these aspects allows us to create an environment conducive to innovation, where psychological safety can promote idea-sharing and risk-taking behaviours. However, psychological barriers, such as fear of failure, can impede innovation. Yet, with strategies like cultivating self-awareness and a growth mindset, these barriers can be overcome.

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Although it is okay to experience these barriers. But what is not okay is to get disheartened and stop trying! To break free from them, one should most importantly try upgrading their skills. Having an open mindset and staying updated in this fast-paced world can stimulate the flow of ideas. Secondly, improvising coping strategies is equally important.

It is important to understand that some tool or strategy which worked earlier, might turn out to be ineffective at a later stage. Thus, developing appropriate coping methods, such as stress management and time management can help individuals in managing the emotional and cognitive effects of psychological barriers.

One thing that has the power to overshadow any obstacle is optimism and faith in oneself. All of us have the right amount of strength to bounce back from adverse situations. It’s okay if our ideas don’t come to fruition this time. We can be faithful, choose to show trust in the Universe’s plan, and always try again! 

References +
  • Hess, E. (2017). Here’s why emotions are the secret sauce of innovation. Forbes.
  • Khalid, Z. (2024). The Invisible Walls: Psychological barriers to innovation and growth.
  • Kumar, M., & Bharadwaj, A. (2016a). Psychology of Innovation: Innovating Human Psychology? In Springer eBooks (pp. 65–80).
  • Mulgan, G., & Albury, D. (2003). Innovation in the Public Sector. Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office, London.

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