This post is an excerpt from the Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We Stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a free copy of the full report at:

Many of us are not well positioned to gain fresh insights and make new discoveries. We’re not in the right mindset and as Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” So even when we’ve made all the other choices that set us up to innovate, we still have a gap.

Making sense of our experience is a two step process. First we need good data, which requires making accurate observations as discussed in the previous post. Then, we need to interpret that data and that forces another important choice: We can seek to reinforce our existing knowledge, or we can seek to discover new knowledge. The first option perpetuates the status quo; the second has the potential to produce breakthrough insights.

Who doesn’t like to be told that he or she is “right?” Who doesn’t feel diminished when they must admit that they’re “wrong?” Most of us do our best to hear the former and avoid the latter. We call it looking for “validation.” That simple preference colors how we interpret our experiences, and form assumptions and beliefs. We like getting reinforcement of what we already believe to be true, of what we claim to know.  But that of course does not lead to innovation. It leads us right back to where we already are. It’s yet another way that we stop ourselves from discovering the insights we need.

This is one reason why high levels of expertise and prior experience frequently interfere with the ability to find new solutions—even when we’re trying to be innovative. We resist having to unlearn what we’ve already concluded is true. Yet that’s exactly what innovation often requires. Gaining new knowledge and insight is not necessarily a cumulative process. It can be very disruptive and if we’re not open to making those kinds of revisions, we can’t make new discoveries.

Most organizations eventually die because they fail to make this crucial shift. They fall victim to conventional wisdom, to the orthodoxies of their industry and to the complacency created by their own success. And so they are unable to change themselves in response to the changes around them. Changes in technology or business models or economic trends or consumer preferences gradually render the organization obsolete.

Innovators prefer to discover rather than confirm and reinforce. They’ve made that choice. So they’re deliberate about actively considering multiple explanations and slow to settle on just one “right” answer. They seek diverse perspectives and welcome alternative interpretations, because that prompts fresh insights. There are times when this means not reaching any conclusion at all, but rather holding multiple possibilities in mind subject to further consideration. We may need to further investigate…imagine, explore and observe…before we find the breakthroughs we need. To keep moving through this cycle, we have to choose to discover.