Innovation Cues: Force Field Analysis

When Kurt Lewin came up with the framework for Force Field Analysis it was only applied to social situations, as in conflicts/society. If we take the same framework to innovation it becomes hugely applicable in developing ideas within an organization, which in itself is a complex social setting. In this post I will try to explain the basic form of force field analysis and how I think it can be applied in an innovation context.

First the concepts, “force” is a factor that drives movement within a setting, and “field” is an overall/gestalt setting as combination of many elements including motives, needs, ideals, values etc. In the analysis we list down forces that move a goal in opposite directions as is like below

Goal: _____________________________________

Worst Outcome aka Hell: _____________ Ideal Outcome aka Heaven: __________
Forces in the negative direction

Forces in the positive direction


Key questions to ask in the analysis after you list forces are

  1. What can I do to eliminate/reduce the forces that are against developing an idea further?
  2. How can I reinforce/strengthen the positive forces that will push the idea further faster towards an ideal outcome?
  3. Can I add a new positive force?

It is interesting to note the similarity between Ideal Final Result or Future Backwards here. But the key difference is force field analysis is centered in the “NOW” (not on a future or past), thereby assessing the current setting and draw a path to creating favorable conditions for innovation to flourish.

Even if it means communications/messaging, building relationships, having an open conversation, resolving conflicts of interests, agreeing to share credits/power/outcomes, among other “political” action that an innovation manager does. 


5 essential meeting room filters

I feel meeting rooms have to be equipped with special filters to shorten meetings, make them meaningful and useful. I will start with the simple one and gradually build complex filters.

1. Clichés Filter: This filter will simply cut out all the clichés uttered in the room from the grand global database of clichés

2. If Only Filter: “If only, …simple past blah blah blah” is almost like visioning in hindsight with no possibility ever to change anything in the present, but can go on through the meeting and its next 4 occurences.

3. Me more me some more me Filter: Although can be avoided with a good time-keeper, there is an interesting instance of this filter under the name of “hide updates from this user without unfriending” feature on Facebook.

As we move from words to word collections to me me me, filters get complex as below

4. Plati Atti Servi tudes Filter: This is a seeded learning filter, inputs vary across organizations due to varying limits of acceptable platitudes and attitudes, and the number of people adopting servitude in a specific meeting. It operates on many principles like deepening organization hierarchy,  modes of operation range from total internal reflection of words (when speaker starts to meditate in the meeting room or usually sleeps off before completing the sentence), substitution of words with antonyms, thus disrupting any units of conveyable meaning.

5. Blame the Culture Filter: BTC filter operates on instances of not taking personal responsibility for failure and vaguely attributing to a figureless culture. Like “tudes” filter this is also a seeded learning filter. Performance of this filter varies based on initial org conditions, retirement age, hiring and firing volumes, country of origin among other variables.


Stage setting for Conflicts in Innovation Programs

Conflicts are natural and they become nasty only when they are not anticipated. Running innovation programs is no different in setting stage for all forms of conflict among agents. My idea to list some of the stage settings and prepare as a facilitator and go with a plan to move action forward, rather than kill an idea with a potential but in conflict. The categorization is naive but I hope you get a drift of how the stage gets set in different forms.

Selection Conflicts

  1. In larger enterprises key problem is detecting and selecting an innovator and a family of high impact ideas. The selection process if badly designed lead to sponsoring ideas that are not going increase firm’s competitiveness.  This can set stage for considerable conflict and disengagement between selected and the left outs and may result in exits with key information or high potential ideas.
  2. While detection is not an issue in smaller enterprises, a high potential idea can be in direct conflict with ownership status and the desired direction of the sole owner or promoter. If the high potential idea is not sponsored directly or given independence internally, it leads to creation of a competitor in close vicinity with the ideas.
  3. Hiding white elephant projects (i.e. projects that hog both limelight and investments for a long time with some key sponsors but produces nothing more than slide decks and platitudes for the business) within large innovation programs are a common stage for conflict, and it drives away original innovators from signing up into the programs.

Management Conflicts

  1. Innovators are at odds with their immediate supervisors usually, leading to conflict within teams and disengagement from ideas. When innovation programs are envisioned/developed at top management level , it is not fair to  expect the same level of understanding with managers running the program as concerns are at different levels. For the innovator working with such a manager there is conflict with what the top management spoke in a town hall meeting versus what happens on the ground. This conflict generally goes unresolved even when brought up in top management forums, usually results in less than anticipated participation for the entire innovation program.

Strategy  / Process Conflicts

  1. A set strategy in place, inhibits experimentation that are directionally outside of it. This is against innovators who just like to play or experiment. If the experiment succeeds innovators typically want to build further. Specifically tackling organizational administrative systems to get approvals for strategically unaligned ideas is usually tougher. This will create a stage for conflict among weak or dated ideas that are sponsored versus newer or unproven ideas that are left out.  Seeking investment versus running stealth is a choice, until capital needs remain small and avoiding conflicts with processes. Beyond a threshold the need to go through the cumbersome budget and approval process or finding a sponsor, leads to other conflicts.

How to deal with Avoid Task and Seek Attention behaviours?

Below 2 behaviors are common in the workplace that is necessary for every change agent to understand. They are critical to every change and system roll out.

Task Avoidance Behavior

Task avoidance behavior manifests as excuses even when there is agreement that the system or change is a worthwhile thing to try. There are many games like the Yes, but… that makes it difficult to spark action. To work around this issue, what I do typically is keep collecting excuses, and for each of the excuses find what “the precious” is, it could be time, effort, attention, presence among many others and gift them free.

Attention Seeking Behavior

Attention seeking is not really a problem, but it requires significant effort usually in the form of habits to sustain action. Social media actions like "like", +1 or transactional superlatives like "awesome" or even a simple "pat on the back", “Bravo” are undervalued. So to sustain attention it is necessary to come up with ideas that are high pedestal and keep coming up with ideas for different actions. If the prize or attention is easily gamed then it diminishes in value and no longer encourages action. So here the change agents’ job is to come up with large number of ideas using simple techniques like Forced Association, on what is available and direct attention to the action and not the pedestal.


For all of you trying to use perception…

For all of you trying to use perception mapping, please understand it is not an effort to construct reality from perceptions surfaced in a meeting. Nobody wants to live in a world created by just perceptions. But rather the effort is to make sense of what more than 1 person in a group had as a perception and how it affects the thinking of a group and really intervening only so much to change that. Reality changes perceptions, and sometimes rarely perceptions do change reality, but you don’t necessarily try that.
If there are collector point perceptions understand that it is group think, if there are contradictions understand the reality is itself contradictory, and understand that loops that are long are really imaginary if the group itself is not in any proximity. In any case there is value in the mapping and changing the picture or representation of reality that you always had.


Being Open

This is an often touched thread in my field of work; the thread of transparency in organizations.

When we deploy closed systems people ask questions around

How can I make this system open to a large number of people so knowledge sharing/discussion can happen?

When we deploy open systems people ask questions around

How can I make this system closed to a limited number of people so we can have our relevant (read private) conversations?

The platform/system will depend on the current popularity and someplace where they have no presence usually. Features, need for user functionality discussions tend to take back seat while we finish conclusively on the open/closed argument (mostly never happens in a single sitting mind you, as people want to bounce ideas internally “closed”).

Just because I CAN be more open does not mean I will be open. Why do people tend to have this warped reasoning when it comes to open information has always intrigued me, here are some

1. Fear of being misunderstood by a large number of unknown people

This fear is real, I have tried convincing people to write about a specific viewpoint that they so clearly articulate in 1 on 1 meetings, but they never had the courage to put it down on paper. This could also be a problem of language (in articulation and being unambiguous)

2. Fear of hijack of a personal idea by anyone of the large number of unknown people

If I am about to mobilize resources on an idea, I have to convey the idea as clearly as possible and if I am in a leverage mode I will have to leave room for idea building, trimming, refinement or even a change in direction. If I am that possessive about the private idea, I will cut a cd, open a bank locker and put it in, possibly throw the key in deep sea. No need to discuss further and selection of platform does not arise.

3. Hesitation to deal with the plausibly large amount of feedback that can come

Let us get real, any open information system is rampant with lurkers, 1 in 100 comment and take conversations further. This is a one reason why non-text entry user actions like “like”, “RT”, “Share” have come up.

If someone had to say something meaningful on a thread, I am all ears, I should probably bring him on board because he cared to respond.

4. Confidence/Arrogance that ideas from the select group is the best possible (both in time (best ever) and space (best on earth))

No need to discuss further and selection of platform does not arise here as well.

May be I am oversimplifying openness/transparency, what do you think? Think openly please.


My Technology Videos

There was this series of videos done by Discovery Channel on personal innovations in India. I first encountered them while Prof Anil K Gupta gave a talk at our office on innovation.

I love the amphibious cycle example in the below video starting 3.05.

There are more videos from the same series