Breaking the cycle of negative turbulence

June 9, 2018

“Getting people to think outside the box”—it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially in some corporate cultures. Recently, I met with a lovely individual tasked with leading innovation at a crown corporation (state-owned enterprise). They told me their challenge of getting the team to completely overhaul their mindset and approach challenges with an unorthodox outlook. 

(First, skeptics, suspend your disbelief for a minute: while it’s true that there are special challenges within government and arms’ length governmental organizations, there are many examples of managers who innovate and radically improve they way their team serves the public. I had the pleasure to briefly work with the City of Austin on one such project.)

At second look, the challenge this product manager was facing—getting people in a process-driven, top-down place to be creative—is a very common situation, even inside more corporate environments. That’s because to be efficient, predictable and able to manage, we need processes for staff to follow.

When the organization is large, managers must ensure they deliver great, dependable service. So, of course, they create processes, rules, service level agreements, and so on; in other words, they work within a lot of structure. But within that structure, and in those processes, we see some of the detriments surfacing all too often. 

Politics have become a significant concern inside these types of organizations. There are often power struggles between different groups and that results in trust breakdown. Many of these organizations are also in a period of stagnating growth; hence, the interest in innovation and getting teams to “think outside the box.” But this further generates more “negative turbulence,”—LINK TO YOUR POST ON IT such as reactive decision making, lack of alignment or real leadership on innovation, and quelching new ideas even before they have a chance to be fairly evaluated.

These organizations are in a cycle of negative turbulence. We’ve all been there. The big question is, how do they—and you—get out of it?

One of the things I noticed in speaking to my contact, as well as others they introduced me to, was that each and every one of them worked hard on fostering a positive relationship with me. And I’d heard the same from other external consultants. I also noticed that within groups, they were very supportive of each other. Finally, I observed that they were very open to talking to similar organizations about how they were innovating. All of these things are elements of “positive turbulence.”

When I pointed this out to this client, they were surprised to hear I had noticed anything positive at all. And there it is: often the amplitude of the negative turbulence is so great, it overwhelms all the good things that you’re doing to generate positive turbulence. So the focus has to shift to generating more positive turbulence. 

Here are five key areas to address:

1. Pay attention to the periphery by more actively listening to speakers outside of their direct field of interest.

2. Develop non-linear thinking by using methodologies such as “design thinking.”

3. Foster cognitive diversity by supporting interdisciplinary training.

4. Support the team by developing a culture where experimentation is not only acceptable, but encouraged.

5. Develop an innovation strategy by aligning senior leadership on the intention and direction of innovation in your organization.

By starting to mindfully implement positive turbulence strategies in your organization, you will find this will have a calming effect on the politics and power struggles. The team will start to feel empowered and will quite naturally free their creative sparks. This, in turn, will free up senior leadership to think about strategy rather than fighting internal fires. Now I’m not saying it will all happen magically because one person has started to mindfully implement positive turbulence. But that change has to start somewhere. And by being mindful about generating positive turbulence, you can start to usher that change into your organization.

Are you interested in bringing the concepts of positive turbulence this into your workplace? Ping me through the Contact Us form and I’ll customize a  workshop for you. Or perhaps you prefer to read about positive turbulence? Check out or for a quicker read, peruse Robert Brodnick’s blog where you can find his and Stan Gryskiewicz’s (the guy who wrote the book!) article on it.