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The ‘Bird Test’: Building Relationships for Innovation

When I think back on my career, the work that I am most proud of occurred in the context of teams or leadership that matched my ideas with genuine interest. They might not have always supported it, but they took the time to listen, to throw questions my way, or to help me flesh it out.

On the flip side, I’ve had times when my ideas just got shrugged off–colleagues who doubted the idea from the get-go, managers who cut me off before I could even finish, leaders who couldn’t have seemed more uninterested. When that happened, I found myself holding back more the next time, overthinking every word instead of focusing on innovative thinking. Those were the situations and the people I couldn’t wait to move on from.

I’ll start to explain the psychological mechanisms that underlie reactions and its implications for fostering a culture of innovation in an unlikely place–a whimsical assessment termed, the “Bird Test.”

The Bird Test

The viral #BirdTest, is an assessment originally developed to gauge compatibility in romantic relationships. In the test, you observe how a person reacts when you point out a bird in passing. It’s less about the bird and more about whether your companion can engage with your excitement about something as simple yet profound as a bird’s presence. This test echoes the psychological concept of “bids for connection,” as proposed by relationship expert John Gottman.

Although originally developed for romantic relationships, I find it applicable to the realm of work for collegial and nonromantic relationships too.

In the aviary of innovation, bids for connection can be thought of as expressions of creative ideas or new approaches to problem-solving. When a team member presents a novel concept, the response from the team can either fuel or extinguish the innovative spark. Emulating the Bird Test, if the team responds with interest and enthusiasm, they not only validate the idea but also encourage a culture of innovation.

Curiosity as the Catalyst for Innovation

For innovators, the Bird Test is akin to celebrating curiosity—a key ingredient for innovation. A workplace that welcomes spontaneous ideas and curiosity with open arms stands at the forefront of breakthroughs. When developers sense that their Eureka! moments are met with genuine interest, they are emboldened to push the boundaries of what’s possible, propelling the entire team into new territories of innovation.

Building a Reliable and Cohesive Team

The Bird Test teaches that enthusiasm for shared moments builds trust and reliability, essential qualities for product developers. As team members regularly turn towards each other’s ideas with support and genuine interest, they build a strong network of trust. This trust is invaluable, especially when the team navigates the inherent risks and uncertainties of bringing new products to market.

Leadership and the Bird Test

Leaders of innovation teams can take a cue from the Bird Test by actively engaging with the ideas of their team members. A leader’s ability to recognize and nurture their team’s creative bids for connection can transform the average workplace into an incubator for innovation. This leadership style promotes a participative, inclusive, and psychologically safe environment where even the most audacious ideas are given wings.

Navigating the Challenges of Innovation Bids

Not all bids for connection will resonate with the entire team. In the context of product development, the challenge lies in addressing overlooked ideas without letting them ferment into discouragement. Cultivating a culture where developers can voice their concerns and feel heard is essential, ensuring that a missed bid does not lead to a missed opportunity for innovation.

The Takeaway for Innovators

For innovators and product developers, the Bird Test is more than a metaphor; it’s a reminder of the importance of shared excitement and engagement in the collaborative process. The test signifies a deeper truth: innovation is not just about the bright idea itself but also about how the team nurtures and responds to that idea.

Whether it’s the spark of inspiration from an unlikely source or collective problem-solving on the path to product launch, responding to each other’s creative bids for connection with enthusiasm can be the wind beneath the wings of success. It’s the shared passion, mirrored in the team’s dynamic, that allows for groundbreaking products to soar from the drawing board into reality.

Contributor

  • Gail Martino

    Gail Martino, Ph.D is a thought leader and global innovation leader in the fast-moving consumer goods industry, having worked with billion-dollar brands at Unilever and previously at Gillette. With a background spanning both corporate and academic roles, Gail has a proven track record in developing and executing highly effective innovation ecosystems, driving value through strategic partnerships and internal product development. Notably, she has been a valued member of the advisory board for the Front End of Innovation conference since 2015.

    View all posts
 
 

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