Hopeful Innovation

The LAB: Innovating a Credit Card with S.I.T. (June 2009)
June 7, 2009
Innovation Suite 2009
June 23, 2009

Hopeful Innovation

Are hopeful employees more innovative? A new study by Armenio Rego and his colleagues shows how employees' sense of hope explains their creative output at work. They asked one hundred and twenty five employees to rate their personal sense of hope and happiness while their supervisors rated the employees' creativity. Based on the correlations, they conclude that hope predicts creativity. Hope is defined as a positive motivational belief in one's future; the feeling that what is wanted can be had; that events will turn out for the best. Hoping is an integral part of being human. Without hope, tasks such as innovating become difficult if not impossible. Why bother if there is no hope for a successful future? "Hope is important for innovation at work because creativity requires challenging the status quo and a willingness to try and possibly fail. It requires some level of internal, sustaining force that pushes individuals to persevere in the face of challenges inherent to creative work."

Are hopeful employees more innovative?  A new study by Armenio Rego and his colleagues shows how employees’ sense of hope explains their creative output at work.  They asked one hundred and twenty five employees to rate their personal sense of hope and happiness while their supervisors rated the employees’ creativity.  Based on the correlations, they conclude that hope predicts creativity.

Hope is defined as a positive motivational belief in one’s future; the feeling that what is wanted can be had;  that events will turn out for the best.  Hoping is an integral part of being human.  Without hope, tasks such as innovating become difficult if not impossible.  Why bother if there is no hope for a successful future?  “Hope is important for innovation at work because creativity requires challenging the status quo and a willingness to try and possibly fail.  It requires some level of internal, sustaining force that pushes individuals to persevere in the face of challenges inherent to creative work.” 

I have observed this in practice.  I once facilitated employees in a division about to be sold to another company.  The employees learned about the divestiture during the workshop.  Morale was low, and participants were not responsive to systematic innovation techniques.  They lacked hope…hope about their future employment and personal achievement.  To salvage the workshop, we re-framed it.  We told the employees they needed to innovate so that they would be perceived as valuable to their new owners.  Innovating would give them an immediate jump-start on becoming competitive in the marketplace, something they struggled with under the current owner.  Once hopeful, they kicked innovation into high gear.  That workshop was one of the most successful and creative I have ever experienced.

What can leaders do to inspire hope?  Darren Webb has outlined a useful model in his paper, “Modes of Hoping.”  He identifies five types of hope:

  1. Patient Hope: Hope is a basic trust in the goodness of the world. To hope is to be patient and stand firm, to place one’s trust in others in facing an unforeseen future.
  2. Critical Hope: Hope is a passionate suffering and restless longing for what is missing in the world.
  3. Estimative Hope:  Hope is a belief that one’s desired objective is both obtainable (probability of success is greater than zero) and that one is in control of making it happen.  It is goal-oriented and based on the evidence.
  4. Resolute Hope:  Hope is the resolve to set aside the evidence of what’s possible and create one’s own sense of probability and degree of control.  It is optimism in spite of the odds.
  5. Utopian Hope: Hope is a sense of profound confidence in one’s destiny to create a new and better future.

Using this model, leaders can create hope at several levels to strengthen innovation:

  1. Vision and Mission:  create a utopian view of how the company is making the world a better place.  Preach it in vision and mission statements.  Consistently tie the message back to specific initiatives, especially innovation initiatives.   Give people reason to believe the vision is a sustained commitment to doing what’s good.
  2. Clear and Achievable Goals:  Set challenging, but realistic goals.  Help employees calibrate the likelihood of success.  If goals are neither clear or achievable, people lose genuine hope.  They may act like they are motivated, but deep down they know  their efforts are useless.  Stress the importance of innovation in achieving these goals.
  3. Empowerment:  People need to feel a sense of control when attacking goals.  It fuels hope that what they strive for can actually happen.
  4. Trust:  Employees need to trust leaders.  “Everything will turn out fine because we have the right leaders in place.”  Building trust means being truthful, consistent, fair, and transparent.  Employees see innovation as worthwhile if they trust the boss.
  5. Competitive Threat:  Inspire employees by creating a sense of anxiety from competition and external threats.  This fuels a sense of critical hope…the desire to rid the world of obstacles standing in their way.
  6. Survival:  Against low odds, leaders may have no choice but to inspire resolute hope…a sense that the “impossible” can happen if we “just work together.”

Bottom line:  don’t hope for innovation; instill hope instead.

Rego, A., Machado, F., Leal, S. & Cunha, M.P.E. (2009) Are Hopeful Employees More Creative? An Empirical Study.  Creativity Research     Journal, 21(2-3), 223-231.

Webb, D. (2007) Modes of Hoping. History of Human Sciences, 20, 65-83.