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Accelerate innovation with validity thinking

#Forecast, #Innovation

If your organization fuels its innovation agenda with only reliability-based thinking, breakthroughs will be few and far in between. Accelerate innovation by giving voice to five types of validity-based thinking.

What’s the difference?

In 2005, Roger Martin—the former Dean of Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and celebrated author on integrated thinking—published the observation that people are predisposed to reason in a manner that favors either validity or reliability. “Reliability,” Martin wrote, “seeks to produce consistent, predictable outcomes” and “validity … seeks to produce outcomes that meet the desired objective, even if the system employed can’t produce a consistent, predictable outcome”.¹

So, why does that matter?

Most people favor safe, “it’s worked before,” reliability thinking. When this majority comes together in business, the results are business processes and cultures biased towards reliability. This bias encourages teams to continually lean on the past processes and perspectives that produced the organization’s original success.

This bias also manifests in the way forthcoming innovations are assessed, with reference to historical data as the ultimate predictor of success.

Yet this reliability-based approach is at tension with the spirit of innovation. Innovation requires a disruption of the status quo—a departure from “it’s worked before” reliability thinking. To successfully innovate, then, we must elevate validity thinking in our business processes and cultures that we participate in every day.

Five types of validity

To begin embracing validity thinking, we need to equip ourselves with an understanding of validity that goes beyond Martin’s definitions of “objective-oriented” and “not reliability”. While there is only one type of reliability, there are many different types of validity.

Five types of validity that we see as having broad applicability and relevance are:

Construct validityThe right tool for the job.

The extent to which something does what it is intended to, determined by interpreting the meaning of outcomes and assessing the implications of this interpretation.²

Face validityWorking, on the surface.

An intuitive judgment that something is correct, without use of objective evidence.²

Content validityWorking, under the hood.

The extent to which something’s components are appropriate for what it is intended to do.²

External validity – Same finding, different method.

The extent to which conclusions remain true when different assessment methods and participants are used.²

Criterion validityMeets the gold standard.

A judgment that something is correct, based on the comparison of assessment outcomes with an independent criterion that is an accepted standard.²

The above types of validity can be used to think and communicate dimensionally—in what ways is XYZ right or wrong?—equipping us with the means to define acceptance criteria and forecast success that depart from reference to what has worked in the past. Not only does this enable effective communication and collaboration in a multitude of endeavors, but this style of thinking also facilitates transformative innovation.

Give validity seats at the table

Martin argues that for businesses to find success through 2025, their cultures and processes will need to find a balance between reliability and validity¹; achieving that balance is critical for accelerating innovation as well. We need to recalibrate our critical thinking and conversational habits to give validity thinking a seat at the table—five seats at the table, in fact. The concept of “reliability” should be afforded only its fair share of focus (as one of six) alongside each of the five validity types above, creating a new mix between reliability and validity thinking that counters the traditional reliability skew.

Innovation rarely happens by accident, and transformative innovation requires the deliberate support of enabling organizational culture, perspectives and processes. Accelerate your innovation agenda with validity thinking. Try it out and let us know how it goes.

  1. Martin, Roger. (2005) Validity vs. reliability: Implications for management. Rotman Magazine, Winter: 4–8.
  2. Adapted from: Colman, Andrew M. (2009) A dictionary of psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.