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Discount Revenge: Innovation in Meetings Gone Awry

Discount Revenge is a challenging dynamic that can occur when people meet to discuss new ideas. It sabotages innovation in meetings. It goes something like this:

  • A team gathers for a meeting. 

  • Sarah introduces an idea for solving a problem or suggests a new approach. 

  • Her colleague Mark does one of the following to Discount Sarah’s contribution:

  1. Rolls his eyes

  2. Folds his arms

  3. Mentions a practical reason her suggestion won’t work 

  • Sarah notices Mark’s response and... 

  • Feels a strong desire to get Revenge by giving Mark the same treatment the next time Mark shares an idea.

Discount Revenge kills innovation in meetings

I first came across Discount Revenge when I attended a session put on by Synectics, a Boston-based organization dedicated to helping teams generate new ideas and products. They originally illuminated the Discount Revenge principle by recording videos of their client teams trying to come up with new ideas. The dynamic described between Sarah and Mark above is something they witnessed all the time - verbal and nonverbal “discounts” followed by subsequent “revenge.”

Intriguingly, most people are completely unaware of the Discount Revenge process until it is pointed out to them. Then they start to see it popping up everywhere - in the boardroom and at the Thanksgiving table.

The damage of Discount Revenge is not just mild annoyance in a meeting - it diminishes people’s  willingness to share their ideas and, over time, creates an environment where only one way of thinking is encouraged and heard. Shutting out fresh ideas and different perspectives is a terrible outcome for a team intent on innovating.

OK, before we get into some suggested solutions to avoid Discount Revenge, I want to introduce another key piece of the puzzle.

When personality types come into play

My background as a subject matter expert in personality type has shown that certain personalities are more likely than others to get into a Discount Revenge “cycle” with another member of their team. Here’s what we’ve found at my company, TypeCoach.

Among the various aspects of personality type, people typically approach innovation in meetings from two different perspectives. While we all have the ability to do both kinds of innovation, we tend to gravitate towards being either a Light Bulb or Process Innovator.

Light Bulb Innovator

Light Bulb Innovators like to generate brand new ways of doing things without much (or any) consideration for how things have historically been done. They:

  • Try to answer the question, “If we could start fresh, what is the best way to handle this situation?”

  • Focus a bit further out into the future and enjoy setting the vision and outlining end goals.

  • Consider the “How are we going to get there?” part after the ideas phase and with less enthusiasm.

Process Innovator

Process Innovators prefer to start with what they already know and look for ways to improve, refine and adjust existing systems or processes. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, they have a strong connection to things they know already work and find it much easier to build on a solid foundation. They:

  • Are quick to ask, “Does a suggested idea or approach actually mesh with our existing procedures and policies?”

  • Are typically more focused on what’s happening in the moment, and take a more realistic view of what is (and is not) feasible given current circumstances.

  • Are usually gifted with seeing logistical obstacles and practical concerns with little effort. Sometimes they’re surprised when others view the raising of these concerns as “negative” since they assume everyone will want to know the likely barriers.

Obviously, we all have the capacity to think in both of these ways, but we tend to gravitate towards one more than the other and find that activity more naturally energizing.

Discount Revenge happens between Light Bulb and Process Innovators

It gets interesting when you consider the different personalities on a team and the increased likelihood that Discount Revenge will occur between Light Bulb and Process Innovators.

The most common Discount Revenge situation involves a Light Bulb Innovator bringing up an unconventional, brand new way of doing things. This raises nine red flags to the Process Innovators because of the incompatibility of what’s being suggested with existing systems. It’s quite difficult to nod and smile at another person’s suggestion when you can think of so many reasons it could never be implemented. So, a “Discount” occurs and we’re off to the races.

In fact, when we explain this dynamic to teams and the personality types involved, they point out that certain people on the team are deeply entrenched in an ongoing Discount Revenge “death spiral.” There is an expectation of disagreement with anything the other person will contribute (often before they even open their mouth) at every meeting.

Effective interactions between different types fuel innovation in meetings

In my 12 years coaching leaders and facilitating team conversations, I’ve witnessed that the most powerful forms of innovation involve effective interactions between Light Bulbers and Processors. So how do you design meetings to avoid Discount Revenge and encourage innovation in meetings?

Tip #1. Start with Light Bulb time to generate ideas.

It’s basically impossible to do both Light Bulb and Process Innovation at the same time. So, provide time in the session for each activity to occur separately. We generally recommend starting with a set period of Light Bulb time. During this segment, encourage everyone to come up with fresh, unconventional, even outlandish ideas. Those who naturally prefer Process Innovation will absolutely get the hang of it.

Tip #2. Evaluate and enhance the ideas through Process Innovation

After a set period of time, turn off Light Bulb Innovation and switch to Process. Evaluate the new ideas in light of existing systems and processes and determine which ones are realistic or feasible. Then further enhance, refine and tweak them until they get better and better. This Process innovation can absolutely be done by your natural Light Bulb people although, beware, they may want to slip back to their preferred approach and bring in more new ideas. If this happens, gently remind them to focus on enhancing existing processes, instead.

Tip #3. Defer judgment to avoid triggering a negative dynamic.

When sharing ideas or suggestions, do your best to not convey doubts to the person who is contributing. If you’re a Process Innovator, for example, and a Light Bulb Innovator is explaining how there’s a great new App that could help and you know it won’t run on your current software platform, keep your critical self in check until the time is right. These things tend to work themselves out and bringing up concerns in that moment will likely trigger a Discount Revenge.

Tip #4. Jot down concerns and reasoning.

If you have legitimate objections, it is fair to keep track of those by writing them down. Don’t make a big scene of it. Just be ready to bring it back up when the idea generating phase is complete and people are critically evaluating.

Balance both perspectives to unlock innovation

Avoiding Discount Revenge isn’t just a sensible idea from a feel-good perspective. Teams intent on truly advancing their ideas need to constructively manage both Light Bulb and Process Innovators. The alternative is to risk only generating a series of unrealistic Light Bulb ideas, or to only produce incremental advancements to existing processes. The interplay of Light Bulb and Process Innovators causes the raw ore of innovation to be pounded into the bright steel of a functioning and beautiful new creation. Teams that can only do one form of innovation, or meetings that only encourage one perspective, rarely get very far.


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