Believe it is possible
The focus of this column over the last few weeks has been to motivate organisations and individuals to start taking action to innovate. This inevitably means taking risks, failing and learning from failure. I have discussed the matters of tolerance for failure and learning from failure (“intelligent failure”), but there is still one ingredient left for getting organisations and people to take action: self-belief. “Self-efficacy” is a concept that has been identified by researcher Albert Bandura from Stanford University already in 1977, and research has shown that self-efficacy has a significant influence on innovation.
Yes I can!
Let me first provide some definitions and background information. Self-efficacy is defined as an individual’s judgment of their capability to organise and execute courses of action for a given task. Being efficacious toward a task is an important factor in an individual’s ability to attempt and subsequently perform the task successfully. Research has found that self-efficacy views influence intrinsic motivation, engagement in specific behaviours, and the ability to pursue certain tasks. This suggests that individuals may not engage or persist in innovative efforts if they do not believe in their own abilities.
Innovation is the intentional implementation of novel and useful processes, products, or procedures designed to benefit society and the organisation. Despite anticipated benefits, innovation work can be unpredictable, controversial, and in competition with current courses of action. Innovators must develop, modify, and implement ideas while navigating ambiguous problem contexts, overcoming setbacks, and persisting through uncertainty. Self-efficacy is context specific, it has been associated with entrepreneurship, accomplishing complex technical tasks and even with quitting smoking! Hence, Dr Liz Gerber has started with research on “innovation self-efficacy”, which she defines as our belief in our ability to take part in the type of actions required to innovate, as described above.
Innovation self-efficacy and innovative action are mutually reinforcing. Positive feedback from innovative action builds confidence, which leads to more innovation behaviour. Building on Bandura’s framework, Dr Gerber has found that innovation self-efficacy develops in three primary ways: 1. Social persuasion (being told you can do it). Consider a time when someone said something positive and encouraging that helped you achieve a goal. Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and instead focus on giving their best effort to the task at hand. 2. Vicarious learning (watching others do it). Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort, raises observers’ beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed. 3. Mastery experience (doing it). The most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences. Performing a task successfully strengthens our sense of self-efficacy.
So, in essence this means that self-efficacy grows with hard won achievements, as opposed to personality and traits, which are relatively stable characteristics. These findings are profound for innovation. In my view, this means that you are not born an innovator, but you can become an innovator by trying, failing, learning and in the process grow your capabilities and self-confidence for becoming better at innovation. All you have to do is to take action through that first step!
In terms of my focus over the last few weeks of getting organisations and individuals to take action to innovate, the issues of taking chances, failing, tolerance of failure and self-belief (self-efficacy) have been dealt with. There is still one topic left to address on this theme and that is the matter of risk management. Taking risks to innovate does not mean jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute; it is something that can be dealt with systemically, the topic for next time. I think it is only appropriate to conclude with this quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right”.
Bandura, A. 1977. Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioural change. Psychological Review. 84(2), 191.
Gerber, E. 2014. Innovation self-efficacy, fostering beliefs in our ability through and by design. Online: http://www.core77.com/posts/20838/