Innovation means turning left when everyone is turning right

Like most people, you probably never questioned or gave much thought to the fact that all wind turbines rotate clockwise. After all, why waste time questioning this when all clocks, dials, knobs, and windmills turn clockwise perfectly happily!

It turns out they do simply because it is a convention, nothing more. Like all assumptions, it served the purpose of simplification and standardisation, avoiding time and money being wasted investigating what appeared to obviously be unimportant.

It may also have been hard to challenge such an established convention. In fact, imagine working for a wind turbine manufacturer: would you have questioned this seemingly innocuous convention? Imagine bringing up the topic in a meeting where high-tech composite materials are being assessed for the next generation of wind turbines due to launch the following year. Probably not! It would have been risky to challenge the default convention when other more pressing matters had to be dealt with.

At Hacking Cultural Beliefs, we find that this is the most common obstacle to radical innovation, giving too much weight to industry conventions, beliefs - the default state of things.

Interestingly, wind mills used to turn counterclockwise, so did the first wind turbines. The convention that all wind turbines should turn clockwise originated in Denmark in the 1970s. The decision was made at a kitchen table partly to differentiate from possibly ‘left-wing’ collectives who produced turbines that were turning counter-clockwise.

That was the convention the world-wide wind turbine industry (valued at around 80 billion dollars) followed until recent research by Antonia Englberger of the German Aerospace Centre, in Oberpfaffenhofen indicated that some wind turbines should turn anti-clockwise. In fact, the way they turn should be different depending on their relative positions and whether they are in the northern or southern hemispheres. Sounds weird, isn’t it? Well that’s exactly why nobody investigated it until now. The convention seemed so obvious that questioning it appeared an utter waste of time.

Of course, now that data provides new facts, it is easy to accept change. However, the true benefit of innovation comes when people are capable and empowered to question established conventions when there is no available data to support doing so.

What assumptions, conventions, beliefs are unconsciously being accepted in your industry or organisation?

What are the holy grails and no-brainers everybody accepts as given? Innovation means turning left when everybody is turning right.

The cultural beliefs and the conventions that we accept unconsciously are the biggest barrier to innovation today. We at Hacking Cultural Beliefs have developed an approach, that enables the systemic creation of Radical Innovation.

Hacking Cultural Beliefs begins with identifying and reframing internal and external beliefs held by your organisation and the industry you are in. Questioning what everyone else accepts ‘as given’ allows you to create unique opportunities others don’t see.

Get in touch: