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  • Writer's pictureLisa Phelan

Open Thinking vs. Closed Judgement

Thinking is difficult, that's why most people judge" - Carl Jung

Throughout my entire career, in my many roles across Marketing, Strategy, Research, and Innovation, understanding what people REALLY want beyond obvious available answers and why people do what they do has always been at the core. The fun part is translating this deep understanding into possibilities across all elements of the mix – product, retail, brand, communication, etc.

This requires an ongoing conversation and connection with people - shoppers, users, consumers, target audiences - and an openness to be surprised and to refine, revise and even rework your direction based upon your new learning.

Creating this connection has historically been called market research, more recently consumer insight or user intelligence. However, the greatest dangers or even abuses of research is to judge, police or kill ideas, rather than learning, building or iterating. Yes, thresholds and KPI and dashboards have value for decision making and prioritization...yet the ‘dark’ side comes into play when they are used without context, without the big picture of 'why' something creates excitement or not, and simply generate robotic reactions... Purchase intention over 54% good - must move relentlessly forward, we have a winner; purchase intention below 54% bad - must kill, stop now, pull the plug. This black & white judgment leads to short-sighted decisions and is counter to creating a learning and truly innovative culture.

This also results in a fear the reaper effect; avoidance of connecting with your real users and with the outside world due to dread that the insight may very well be the cause of death for your project. With this in effect, territoriality and internal 'we know best' thinking prevails, and true innovation stalls or stops.

Innovation happens when there is openness, true listening and applied learning, and the possibility to change course based upon insight without fear. Movement forward stems from an acceptance of the risk of not having all the answers and continually learning throughout the creative process.

This requires embracing some not always natural behaviors or mindsets:

  • Humility: don’t let ego or fixation trump reality and new perspective

  • Curiosity: if it’s obvious, everyone knows it or can figure it out…go deeper

  • Affinity: going it alone or within your comfort zone team will not get you as far as you could potentially stretch

  • Ambiguity: allowance that you will change course, discover newness, and have revelations

And judgement is not just coming from external sources; there’s a whole lot of self-judgement or self-filtering happening in the workplace, inside our own heads. ‘Can’t admit I’m wrong, they’ll think I’m an idiot’ …’Should have known this already’…’We’re on the wrong track, but who am I to say’….’He must know what he is doing, he is in the C-suite’.

As a result, some great ideas never get passed your lips or out of your brain, because you have already judged them as unworthy of exploration and sharing.

Net-net…put it out there, admit it’s rough, refine it, build it, shape it, share it…just don’t judge it!


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