South-Western - Management  
Irrational Secrets to Innovation
Topic Decision Making
Key Words Innovation, unconscious mind, team decision making
News Story 

Managers who are looking for innovative solutions to problems often run into resistance from their employees who would be more comfortable doing things the way they have always been done. The unconscious mind can hold resources that can be tapped to unlock the creativity necessary to approaching problems in a fresh way. If the conscious mind is like the tip of an iceberg, the majority, or the unconscious lies hidden below the surface. Breakthrough innovations often lie within that area below the surface, and can’t be gotten to using typical rational techniques.

One company’s team of internal software developers had been trying for years to create a state-of-the-art engineering package. Users dismissed early prototypes as inadequate, and software developers responded without enthusiasm to the issues they brought up. All their attempts to resolve issues failed. Finally, a manger experienced in irrational techniques suggested a brainstorming technique called “dialogue.” He brought a “magic rock” and made the group sit in a circle. Only those who held the rock could speak. Supposedly, the rock contained magic properties that would enable them to reach deep creativity. The manager started every dialogue with a question: “what is your ethical responsibility to your team members and your company?” After several stalled discussions, members of the users’ group found the courage to say that they didn’t have confidence in the software developers to create the product and felt the project needed to be outsourced. As a result, the software developers went to work to prove their worth. As a result, the team delivered the software in six months and received one of the company’s highest quality awards.

Another group process to get at the power of unconscious decision making is drawing pictures of symbols. People don’t have to be artists to convey on paper what their unconscious mind is thinking. For example, a group that was stymied in making a decision drew sharks in their picture to represent that they felt cornered and attacked. Once this was out in the open, the process was able to move forward.

Many managers have a difficult time dealing with the irrational mind. The fear of failure and criticism can be intense. Yet, there are three good reasons to give these techniques a try when a group is stymied in their decision making:

  1. If we don’t pay attention to our unconscious, it can erupt when we least expect it.
  2. Our unconscious provides the energy needed to break free of old constraints.
  3. Our unconscious gives us critical guidance.
Sometimes, managers have such difficulty overcoming their uncomfortable feelings about techniques to tap the unconscious that implementing these types of techniques should be a slow process, perhaps given a trial basis to see if it can help to free the decision-making process.


Define "irrational decision-making techniques."


This article advocates a type of decision-making called "irrational." Read in your textbook about the steps to rational decision making and summarize them here. How does the irrational decision making process differ from the rational decision making process?


What steps do you go through when you are faced with a particularly tough decision? Would you say your approach is more rational or irrational? Choose a tough decision that you have made in your life and analyze your decision-making process. Be prepared to discuss your process in a small group in class.

Source “Irrational Secrets to Innovation,” HR Magazine, December, 2005, pp. 96-100.
Instructor Discussion Notes Discussion Notes
These notes are restricted to qualified instructors only. Register for free!

Return to the Decision Making Index

©2005  South-Western.  All Rights Reserved     |