Innovation is all about mindset

Mindset Experts

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2018 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. This involves 20 free events, workshops and training sessions along with thought leadership blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Official Partner and Sponsors – The West Midlands Combined Authority, Aston University, South and City College Birmingham and Curium Solutions - all events are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more here.

Artificial intelligence is here. Disruption from small, agile companies is here. The speed at which the market changes is the only question left, whether it will happen or not has already been answered. It will.

Success in this new world requires a change to your processes and a shift in mindset.

“The new smart will be determined not by what you know but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning.” Ed Hess (Harvard Business Review)

If you’re going for a ‘business as usual’ strategy then good luck to you, but the chances are your company won’t survive. A robust innovation process is your best opportunity to create true longevity. Where is the greatest innovation going to come from in your company? From your people, they understand your customers and your industry perspective better than anybody else.

So now I ask you now as a leader – how well do you know your own people?

I’m not talking about what their job description is, their children’s names or who will get the most drunk at a Christmas party. I’m talking about the most important aspect of all. Their mindset.

People’s minds are set up very differently. There are far too many aspects to cover in a single blog around the genetic, neurobiological and environmental influences. So I’m not going to attempt to do that here, we wouldn’t even scratch the surface and you wouldn’t get value. What I wanted to offer you instead was an introduction to an innovation technique that you can try with your people. If you follow this not only will it evidence the point I’m making about mindset, it will also give you another innovation tool for your organisation. It’s called the Disney process.

Walt Disney saw that traditional ‘brainstorming’ for new ideas didn’t work. Why not?

Because there are simply too many existing dynamics and unspoken norms going on. The loudest and biggest personalities in the room do all the talking and lead the narrative. People with great ideas can keep their mouths shut because when they say something it’s immediately criticised. Ego and hierarchy control the process, at a conscious and subconscious level. We all go off on the same merry dance as before, so that some people leave feeling undervalued and thinking ‘why was I asked to go to that meeting?’.

Walt Disney created a world leading company by using a different approach.

He recognised that there were three states of thinking in the creative process. To get the best results you have to split them up and respect their individual importance. You take a problem you are trying to solve and run it through these different phases:


The Dreamer Phase – Paint a picture of the biggest and most outlandish solution possible. Forget all financial restraints, forget what you’re doing now or done before, this is a blank sheet where anything is possible. Nobody at this stage is allowed to say something cannot be done. The only contributions are big ideas and encouragement. Suspend your disbelief and open your mind.

The Realist Phase – Vote on the dreamer ideas and then take the essence of that down to reality. At this stage there is still to be no criticising, the conversation is exclusively about how you can get the big idea to work. What are the resources you need and who could you partner with? What are the blockers and when was the last time they were tested? How could you raise the capital? How could you build the skill base and resources required? In this phase there is always a way.

The Critic Phase – Now that you have taken the big idea into a realistic plan, the critics can get their knives out. Why won’t this work? What can we do to mitigate against the risks? What can we change to maximise the chance of success?

Disney was meticulous in following this process. He did each stage in different rooms that were different colours. He ensured that the norms in each stage were followed to the letter. He saw that if the leader in the room can control the egos (including their own) and facilitate a softening of the hierarchies, then this process can provide phenomenal results.

Indeed considering that the process can be run in a few hours, the ROI is better than anything else I’ve seen in terms of outcomes and getting closer to your people.

Not only do you get new ideas, this process will show you the idea people, the ‘make it happen’ people and the risk management people. You can identify the detail masters and the big picture designers, the empaths and the leaders.

When you know who those people are you can involve them in discussions for different business aspects. Product development, marketing plans, customer engagement, sales solutions – every part of your innovation process needs a balance of these different types of mindsets. You will get outcomes and your people will feel valued. They will engage with you more, driving better results.

Everybody wins.

Or cross you can your fingers and wait for the inevitable (HMV and Blockbuster anyone?).

Joe Trodden is CEO of Mindset Experts, an organisation spun out of Entrepreneurial Spark which focuses on maximising impact by developing people’s mindsets.

To find out more about the difference mindset makes to your company contact Joe on