Spotting the Gorilla in the Room

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.

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3 Responses to Spotting the Gorilla in the Room

  1. mdf4u says:

    Well put, Sarah. Whether it’s serendipity or planned, purposeful collaboration, if a company doesn’t have the ability to innovate well already using the internal resources and processes it has in place, one shouldn’t expect open innovation or crowdsourcing to make them more effective.

  2. Rohit Chopra says:

    While I agree with Jonathan, my question would be: Can innovative processes/methodologies shift left brain individuals to be creative above the marginal level?

    Second; while I partly agree that internal resources and processes should be in place to innovate or crowdsource—my question is: Does that mean we shouldn’t innovate until these process are well defined?

  3. Roxanne Ryan says:

    Interesting challenges, Rohit. Definitely thought-invoking! I don’t know if a left-brained individual can morph dramatically. However, I believe that all perspectives are essential to innovation… often the left-brained pragmatic thinkers hold the key to turning the creative right-brainers ideas from concepts into reality. I can understand how LBers may not think they “fit in” on projects or initiatives based on creativity and innovation, but I disagree. Doesn’t implementing good ideas take a lot of review, analysis, testing, risk evaluations, etc? If we can agree on that, can we also then agree that if we all equally embrace innovation, work collaboratively, and help each other spot gorillas we may not see on our own, the possibilities for progression increase significantly?

    “Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.” Albert Einstein

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