While attending a company training seminar a couple of years ago, I was part of a group shown a video. The video showed six people – three in white shirts and three in black shirts-passing basketballs around. We were asked to keep a silent count of the number of passes made by the people in white shirts. At the end of the video we were asked what our counts were. We were then asked how many of us had seen the gorilla walk into the frame, stand there, pound his chest and then walk off; along with about half the group, I hadn’t seen the gorilla. Those of us who hadn’t seen the gorilla, didn’t believe it had been there. In fact, showing increasing skepticism, we were convinced that we were the victims of an elaborate prank. We were shown the video again, and the presenters swore it was the same video, and what do you know, a gorilla walked through the scene.
This video turns out to be the “Gorilla Experiment” which, as explained by the creators of the experiment, reveals two things: “that we are missing a lot of what goes on around us, and that we have no idea that we are missing so much.” I think that much the same could be said of innovation within a corporation; often companies are missing what is right in front of them and don’t even realize it. As this article points out, “breakthroughs are less about the act of inventing new things than they are the art of recognizing “happy accidents”.
Now that innovation is the new hot topic, a lot of money is being spent on innovation experts, innovation software, innovation methodology and these all have a lot of value. However, perhaps many companies have everything they need to be more innovative in front of them already; they just need to do a better job of nurturing, recognizing and capitalizing on those “happy accidents”. Because at the end of the day, if a company doesn’t have the internal processes and structures in place to spot the happy accidents already taking place, why will it do a better job recognizing any new, great ideas that it receives through crowdsourcing, open innovation efforts or other methodologies?
There can be all sorts of reasons that the management of a company are missing what goes on around them: silos, poorly structured incentives, a lack of a collaborative culture, to name just a few. Until those underlying issues are addressed, any innovation efforts are unlikely to deliver the desired results. Once those underlying issues are resolved, perhaps everyone will suddenly notice that a gorilla has been standing in the room all along.