“Creative thinkers face a penalty in organisations. While people say they value those kinds of individuals who are “out-of-the-box” thinkers. In fact, they feel rather ambivalent about them. As often as they might call them visionary or path breaking. They might also label them with words like “quirky”, “unfocused” and “nonconformist”… It is an interesting challenge for people… you may in fact hurt your career.”— Michael Roberto Innovation Show Episode 185
Business leaders proclaim a need for creativity and innovation. However, these same leaders create an environment where people fear sharing ideas. Rewards and incentive systems focus on efficiency and productivity, and discourage learning and exploration.
The World Economic Forum future of jobs report lists creativity as the third most important skill of the fourth industrial revolution. The first and second are complex problem solving and critical thinking, respectively. These coveted skills presuppose a psychological safe working environment, where people can speak up, gainsay and to call out problems early. Unfortunately, despite the apparent desire for innovation and creativity, the environments in which these phenomena thrive are rare.
For so many changemakers, innovation and transformation workers operating in risk-averse working environments is not only frustrating, but can be a threat to their mental health. To exacerbate the situation, guardians of the status quo will often ostracise, obstruct and even “gaslight” the changemaker.
What is Gaslighting?
The term “Gaslighting” derives from the 1938 play, subsequently made into two films in the 1940s, one with Ingrid Bergman, all called “Gaslight”. A husband tries to convince his wife she is going insane, aiming to have her institutionalised and get her out of the way, so he can search for jewels hidden in their house.
He isolates his wife; fakes evidence that she stole some small objects, and engineers jealousy by flirting with the maid (Angela Lansbury, Murder she Wrote) before telling his wife she is imagining it. During his search for the missing jewels, his actions cause the gaslights in the house to flicker, but he convinces his wife that these changes in the gaslights are figments of her imagination. Hence the term “gaslighting”.
Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person makes a victim question their reality. It is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. Those in positions of power such as a CEO, manager or startup founder may use gaslighting to make their employees feel they “owe” something to them. They may make them feel that no one else would employ them, that only they can unlock their true potential, if only they do as they are told.
In large organisations, those with a vested interest in the status quo may gaslight the changemaker. They will befriend the changemaker (keeping their enemy close) to mine them for information and to ensure that they do not present a threat. If they present a threat, the gaslighter may rally some others against the changemaker to obstruct their progress or make them doubt the feasibility of their proposed changes. Changemakers can often doubt their ideas and feel that their quest for change is futile.
For the changemaker, the status quo does not mean you ill. The problem is that business leaders do not get fired for being average, but they risk being fired if experiments do not pay off. When you introduce new concepts, you introduce risk. When you introduce risk, they become anxious. The status quo rarely rejects you personally; they reject what you represent. They are not trying to contain you; they are trying to contain change. This Thursday Thought is one of one support for the changemaker, you are not alone. “Any change, even a change for the better”, Arnold Bennett wrote, “is always accompanied by discomforts”.
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