When I enter a room full of expectant freshman college students, or workshop participants they immediately begin to assess and decide if I am worthy of their attention.  You might think you have 10 maybe even 60 seconds to engage them and thus begin to show your competence, but the reality is, based on recent research by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, you in fact have 1/10 of a second, yep, you literally have a blink of an eye to initially establish your competence.

In this 10th of a second people tend to zero in on your face, and based on the data they receive assumptions are made about a number of things including intelligence, confidence, attractiveness, and trustworthiness. Out of all of these, Willis and Todorov state that trustworthiness is the characteristic assessed the most quickly, and is the least likely to change even after prolonged exposure to the person, reinforcing the oft repeated statement that you never get a second chance at a first impression.

When we become self-aware that we are being assessed and more importantly that we also do the assessing, we can use this information to gain insight and learn to innovate by remaining self-aware. The correlation between snap judgments and innovation is in recognizing that when we rely on first impressions we not only narrow our focus, we reinforce our initial reaction, and therefore the potential for innovation is immediately diminished. Innovation needs space, and room to breath, but first impressions collapse possibilities in their haste to formulate answers, and first impressions are a result of past repeated observations and experiences and by default eliminate alternatives and cloud imagination.  So if you want to innovate you must first remain aware, second you need to widen your perspective, and third you need to change the context or language in which you are addressing the issue or problem. This intentional shift to consider possibilities that are in direct contrast to what is known, or to ask questions that seek to expand and not contract understanding, create the necessary space needed for new thoughts, ideas, and concepts to enter. When, for instance, you ask, “in what ways might I…..?” you create a scenario that invites in options, previously not considered. Now the context has shifted, the potential answers have increased, and you are training yourself to be self-aware so as to be innovative, and more organizationally aware. By changing the language and the context, you have redefined the moment to include brilliance, instead of past solutions, that provide the comfort of the known, but little else. If all you do is what you’ve done, then all you’ll create is what you know, which is never innovative.

Don’t try to avoid first impressions, they have their place and purpose, just not in a space that wants growth, innovation and brilliance. Blink.


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