What are the mental barriers to innovative thinking and how do we break them down? Why do otherwise intelligent people so often succumb to these mistaken notions of what makes an idea innovative? The answer lies in basic social psychology. As social creatures, we have been trained from a very early age to behave in a manner that conforms to perceived social norms. This is very important for maintaining a modern society, but has the unfortunate side effect of stifling the instinct to innovate. Inside each of us is the latent ability to break out of this mold and use our inherent creative faculties to solve problems.

The Psychological Need to Imitate
Since you were a child, you’ve behaved imitatively. You learned your first language from your parents, as well as your dominant worldview, religion, politics and any number of other things. You probably aren’t fully aware of the extent to which you are molded by your surroundings. It may seem that all of your thoughts are your own, but the vast majority of everything you think and do is in some way conditioned by the environment in which you live. Even when you choose to rebel against a mainstream way of thinking, your rebellion is cast in terms that are defined by others. Everything from world news to gossip about your friends is framed by outside parties and the way it’s framed defines your perception of it.

This is not a bad thing at all. Our shared knowledge and culture are how we, as species, have managed to emerge from the wilderness and construct modern civilization. However, there is more to a person than the sum of the learned knowledge. Your ability to question and analyze problems is something that belongs uniquely to you.

The first step in learning to think like an innovator, is to begin questioning and analyzing your own thoughts and behavior. Try it right now. Take a break from reading this, go do something else and try to observe your every action for the next five minutes. Do you understand the logic behind everything you do? Could you explain it? If you do something you can’t explain, question your motives. What do you think that has caused you to do it? Did you see someone else doing it and copy their behavior unthinkingly? Now try to think of ways to optimize your behavior over the past five minutes. What would you change, and why? Are there better ways you could have spent the past five minutes? What was your goal, anyway?

You probably don’t have satisfactory answers to these questions, and that’s ok. The key is exercising the inquisitive part of your brain so that it’s constantly picking apart stimuli, both internal and external. In your next interaction with a friend or colleague, repeat the process taking their perspective. Why are they behaving the way they are? Why did they say what they said? What do you think their goals are? Can you think of some way to help them achieve those goals?

The more you perform this exercise, the higher level of systems you’ll be able to apply it to. You will soon find yourself asking the same questions about your business, intuitively, constantly questioning and testing hypotheses in your mind. Once this becomes second nature, you’ll find the ideas coming fast and thick. Know more about the various psychological challenges of innovation only at the University Canada West, one of the best universities in Canada, offering various business and management related programs.