Innovation requires the ability to question the accepted, challenge the status quo, engage in open discussions, and imagine new possibilities. In any given society, there are cultural factors in place that either tolerates or discourages these characteristics. Some cultures are more tolerant of differences, while others are dominated by superstitions and the need to maintain the status quo.
Religion is one such cultural factor. All religions seek to enforce their own dogma. Some tolerate regional variations and adaptations. Others use extreme means to ram the one belief down the throats of believers and non-believers alike: You will think and act this one single way, or else… A close relation to religion is superstition. Superstition stems from a fear of the unknown – and the need to invent simple rationales to explain them. Once such a belief becomes entrenched, all future attempts at knowing or learning can become off-limits. If the church had had its way, we would still believe the entire universe revolved around a perfectly spherical Earth.
When the American band Dixie Chicks sang songs in protest of the Bush invasion of Afghanistan, they provoked huge outrage in the US. In a country that purports to be the global champion of free speech, this is a frightening example of how easy we as a species can fall into group think. Perhaps fervent nationalism is simply another religion.
Accepted social norms such as the need to save face, to live up to the (usually ill-defined) expectations of ancestors, and to value keeping busy over achieving outcomes, are also innovation-limiting factors. They promote self-censorship and interrupt the free-flow of ideas.
Conventional business practices such as the blind worship of BIG and More-Money-Now also limit the ability of many businesses to think outside the box. A business that focuses on quality over quantity, and says no to opportunities for growth is frowned upon. There are loads of examples of such highly-successful, counter-current businesses in Bo Burlington’s Small Giants.
When things are taken as “usual practice”, “natural” or “normal”, they become invisible to questioning. The more a culture is suffused with belief-induced blindness, the less likely it is to produce new thinking and innovation. This is often exacerbated by the active enforcement of these beliefs – using tools like guilt, censorship and threats of physical harm.