How to kill innovation with email, guaranteed!

by Yoram Solomon

How to kill innovation with email, guaranteed!

How often do you use the BCC field in an email header? Here is one negative consequence to consider.

Innovation is a team sport. You must rely not only on your own ingenuity and creativity, but also on that of your team members. Innovation also requires a culture of innovation, of which team dynamics play a critical role.

Constructive Disagreement

Effective, productive, and creative teamwork rely on your ability to conduct constructive disagreement. This is the type of argument or debate that focuses on issues, and not on people. It is passionate, but not emotional. The alternatives, the politically-correct discussion and the destructive conflict yield very little creativity, productivity, and effectiveness in teamwork. Instead, topics are “off the table,” or you attack people instead of ideas, using emotions instead of rational passion.

To be able to conduct constructive disagreement, you must be willing to do three things: be vulnerable enough to ask stupid questions and suggest stupid ideas; feel safe providing constructive feedback to others about their ideas and questions; and–be confident enough to truly listen and entertain such feedback from others, even if you don’t agree with it.

(Image Source: Yoram Solomon)

Trust

All three of those require one definite prerequisite–trust. Without trusting the others not to make fun of you (especially outside the meeting), you will not allow yourself to be vulnerable with them. Without trusting the others not to take your feedback personally and attack you back, you will not feel safe providing such feedback. And without trusting that the others have your (and the company’s) best interests in mind–you will not be willing to listen to their feedback or entertain it, whether you accept it or not.

BCC

Now I’d like you to put yourself in the following scenario.

A colleague just sent you an email. You are the sole recipient of that email. Your email address is in the “To” field of the email header. There is no other email address in the “CC” field. As you contemplate an answer to this email, you receive another email. This email is from your mutual boss (or even someone else in the team or outside it). It appears to be in response to the original email sent by your colleague.

But wait! How could your boss have responded to that email if her email address was not in the “To” or “CC” fields? Now you get it. She was BCC’ed on the original email!

What do you feel? Specifically, what do you feel about your colleague?

I know what you are thinking. Why would anyone BCC someone else on an email? And even worse–my boss! Obviously, because they didn’t want you to know that another person is copied. Maybe because they wanted the boss to show how great they are. Maybe because they wanted to show the boss are not-so-great you are.

Either way–do you trust that person after this? How many times did they do it in the past? How many times will they do that in the future?

Would you be willing to be vulnerable with that person?

Would you feel safe giving them real feedback?

Would you consider their feedback genuine?

The only person I ever put in the BCC field is myself, on emails that I want to keep in my Inbox. For no other reason. Don’t put other people in BCC. You will dramatically erode trust, and will never achieve the most effective, productive, and creative teamwork you can. And if someone else does it–kick them out of the team.

Read more about the effective teamwork structure in the book Culture starts with YOU, not your boss!

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Dr. Yoram Solomon is an inventor, creativity researcher, coach, consultant, and trainer to large companies and employees. His Ph.D. examines why people are more creative in startup companies than in mature ones. Yoram was a professor of Technology and Industry Forecasting at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UT Dallas School of Management; is active in regional innovation and tech transfer; and is a speaker and author on predicting technology future and identifying opportunities for market disruption. Follow @yoram

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