Listening and Innovation

Three ways listening can positively impact your ability to innovate


Listening can play a number of roles in developing a culture of innovation. One of the great results of listening fully to someone you are collaborating with is that hr or she instantly feels validated and respected. This leads to authenticity and trust, which leads to better ideas. It’s a circle of awesomeness. Here are three ways listening can positively impact your - and your organization’s - ability to innovate:

1. When in doubt, take two deep breaths and listen. Listening is a powerful tool for stopping the inner dialogue about what should be the outcome or executable, that this is how we’ve always done it before, or that this is what I’m most comfortable with. It seems as if listening distracts our negative inner voice. We have a finite amount of attention to give – and if we choose to give it all to the person we are listening to, we are no longer giving any attention to the self-judging, negative self-talk that sometimes is playing in our head like bad talk radio.

2. Innovation is non-existent without listening. Another great role listening plays in innovation is that it serves as a vehicle to get you into a pool of ideas beyond your current understanding. When our heads are fighting us the whole way, sometimes traveling to that pool can be quite a battle.

3. Listening builds trust in being lead down paths you wouldn’t normally go down. When I intentionally put on my listening hat, especially when listening to people who are considerably different than I am, I’m very quickly taken into a new realm. I am a stowaway on someone else’s idea ship. Their ideas take me to new perspectives, to new angles; It’s not just new information that I’m gaining from them, it’s the ability to look at the entire question of challenge differently than I ever would have if I had stayed within my own head.

We need to listen to our customers in ways that tell us more than just what we should build for them in order to determine what they really need. Sometimes they don’t know – so we have to listen for them. We need to listen to ourselves, our instincts, our guts – both to find sparks of innovation and to identify our own innovative barriers or biases. Our fear.

Listening is a critical behavior and curiosity plays a big role in being able to open up our perspective to embrace opportunity.

Some like to call innovation progress, and I agree. Without continuing to rethink old paradigms and find new solutions to current problems, stagnation – and eventual demise – will ensue. In our current interconnected, lightning-fast world that’s full of tremendous, complex challenges, we have to take an active role in contributing our insights, listening to those around us, and putting our ideas in motion in order to collectively create the world we want to live in. 


JOHN SWEENEY is the co-owner and executive producer of the Brave New Workshop, America’s oldest satirical comedy theatre. He uses his 20+ years of improvisational performance, speaking and training to influence human behavior and to create simple but groundbreaking tools that have ignited cultures of innovative behavior within such companies as Microsoft, PWC, General Mills and UnitedHealthGroup.



Twitter: @iamjohnsweeneyLinkedIn:

ELENA IMARETSKA is vice president of New Products, Partnerships, and Sustainability for the corporate speaking and training business of the Brave New Workshop. She is the architect of the learning model and core curriculum of the organization’s offerings and has spent the past 8 years optimizing the business application of the improvisational approach to innovating, collaborating and leading.

Twitter: @imaretskaLinkedIn: 


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