The concept of mimicry is not a foreign one — we see this in nature all the time. Take for example the monarch and viceroy butterflies. The monarch butterfly is in fact quite toxic due to the milkweed plant they eat as caterpillars. Over time, predators have learned to avoid the bright orange and black colours of the monarch butterfly. Enter the viceroy butterfly, which to the untrained eye, looks like a monarch. With similar colours and patterns, predators who avoid the monarch also avoid the viceroy because they cannot tell the difference between them, even though the viceroy is not toxic.
People Mimic Role Models
While the viceroy mimicked the monarch out of survival, we as humans tend to mimic out of admiration and respect. We mimic the people that we admire and respect. In fact, research onsocial learning shows that it is one of the most effective ways that we learn new habits and skills as a child. We look for exemplars and see what works, following suit because we see the results in action.
As children, we mimic the language and attitudes of our parents because it is the most efficient way to learn. Fast forward thirty years later and mimicking is still the most efficient way to learn new behaviours — from those that we respect and admire. As such, role models act as behavioural templates for us to copy and then make our own.
Managers should use this as an opportunity. Others on your team or department are not only looking to you to make tough decisions, they also replicate your behaviours as well. Like the monarch and viceroy butterflies, your company will survive and thrive through adapting and learning from each other. Make a conscious decision to actively engage in innovative behaviours like collaborating with other teams, sharing ideas and adopt some risk to execute valuable ideas.
Informal Influencers are Great Role Models
Just as it is important for management to be innovative, collaborative, and open, you must also recognize the potential in informal influencers. Informal influencers are respected colleagues that others go to for information, advice, or ideas. Commonly misidentified but powerhouses of driving change, informal influencers play a crucial role in helping your community adopt an innovative culture.
For example, here at SoapBox, we like to create a network of innovation champions who are informal influencers in their respective fields within an organization. As champions, they encourage others to submit ideas, are proactive about responding to the progress of an idea, and collaborate with other champions to implement ideas. Through our experience, we have seen that companies with this network of champions have been extremely successful in engaging with their colleagues. They are seeing practical results. Champions simply embody innovative culture in their everyday habits, and it permeates through the workspace.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Embrace innovation by taking on the attribute of innovators, and others will soon follow suit. Lead by example, and you will find that others will recognize you as a role model and see your actions as a testimony to the importance of collaboration, innovation, and openness in your community.