“Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas.” G.K. Chesterton
Innovation does not come by following the mainstream or the status quo. Innovation is about creating change, discovery, and examining new ideas. It thoughtfully considers out-of-the-box or upside-down thinking and implements methods that might at first seem uncomfortable, or even wild.
Several years ago, I became aware of an organization in Australia called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI), hosted by The Ethics Centre and the Sydney Opera House. This festival is unlike any other. It is “the original disruptive festival that brings to light important conversations that push the boundaries of conventional thought.”
The goal over the three-day festival is to encourage debate and critical thinking through an extensive and impressive lineup of local and international speakers. This year a “thought experiment” was on the docket where the audience had the opportunity to donate a large sum of money to a deserving charity, but only if the entire audience unanimously decided on which charity.
FODI pushes attendees each year, to take a chance to think differently about a previously held belief, and in thinking differently, the hope is that people move beyond shallow thinking and creating a space for “open, honest and often difficult conversations.”
Safety is instinctual to humans—not just physical safety, but also mental safety. Fear protects. Sometimes that comes in handy: when you see a bear, fear ignites the amygdala in the brain to the “fight or flight” response, and your body prepares to protect itself from a threatening grizzly.
Fear can also protect when it comes to a belief, primarily when we dwell in the space of status quo and stability. Again, not terrible qualities, but also not characteristics that produce innovation and game-changing breakthroughs. Status quo can be, and often is, the enemy to change, and in some cases, to survival. So maybe it’s not the grizzly we should worry about, but the often-repetitive routine of daily life.
So, does the risk lie in pushing the envelope or in the status quo? Yes. But we know that danger lies in innovation. Ideas aren’t usually inherently dangerous or safe, but removing labels from ideas might be the spark toward innovation. Failure to ask a dangerous question might be the beginning of the end (consider JCPenney, Best Buy, and OfficeMax/Office Depot). Leaders who generate innovative ideas and inspire change, ask and share dangerous and unspeakable ideas, and encourage others to do the same by modeling their bold thinking.
Dangerous Thinkers take significant risks with ego, power, and control. A big separator between Dangerous Thinkers from Status-Quo Maintainers is ego. Dangerous Thinkers leave their ego at the door recognizing that innovation is a collaborative group effort. The ego doesn’t drive their motivation, progress, and open-minded thinking.
Dangerous Thinkers are also willing to give up or share power to increase power to a more significant number of people. But, a Status-Quo Maintainer works to keep and guard the power they might already possess. It is too uncomfortable to do otherwise.
As a leadership speaker for over the past 25 years, I’ve witnessed firsthand how dangerous thinkers have relinquished control. They do so because they recognize the value of the gifts and talents of their team and don’t feel threatened by them. They release control to foster ownership and to encourage their teammates to live out of their strengths. A Dangerous Thinker is an inspiring leader, not by taking, but by giving.
If you would like to know more about how I can work with your team and inspire them to think outside-the-box, I would enjoy hearing from you.