Innovation, Design and the Human Brain

The human brain comes with unique equipment to build and sustain innovative cultures, where design leads to profitability. How so?

1.  Kindle and design an idea. Just as the iPod started with an innovative  idea,  Steve Jobs and others continue to design Apple products that revolutionize communication. Fast Company celebrated the last decade’s 14 biggest such design moments, all of which unveil the original ideas that rolled into products with possibilities. How does it happen? Your brain’s hippocampus releases a shot of dopamine in  response to novelty. Anthony Grace at the University of Pittsburgh describes a feedback loop that involves a chemical and electrical interactions between dopamine and novel or unexpected events. This lively process appears to lock in memory, as it also engages the amygdala where the brain processes emotional information that feeds innovation.

2. Mimic creative people. Believe it or not, you can literally adopt another person’s innovative talents by observing them. It’s also true that while innovation may be more vital than ever at your workplace, individuals  who think act and build differently often remain at a premium.  That’s where the brain can help out, so that more people learn innovative tactics that generate profitable designs.  How so? Mirror neurons show how innovative cultures come from imitation – and this video on mirror neurons illustrates how we watch and mirror the culture others live. Deep inside your brain cells are neurons that will fire in reaction to another’s beliefs as they roll into activity. See any new opportunities for innovation where you work,  as they play out in mimicking an innovator’s actions?

3. Link opposites together and build from both sides. Need a breakthrough to top up the creativity on a project? Then build an innovative culture of connecting opposites in ways that few non-innovators think to connect. If you’ve ever benefited from unique insights, you’ve likely also seen opposing viewpoints from high-performance minds,  that beg to differ. So why then, do disagreements about opposing views so often break up relations, terminate innovative projects, shut down brilliant people, promote racism, and even ignite wars? Tone is the brain’s best approach to tame an amygdala in ways that harness innovative energy. Rather than take potshots at people, consider disagreements as tools to build goodwill across differences, and diversity becomes the hottest neuron pathway to innovative solutions. Designs that come from engaging genius thinkers, are the same offerings that prosper a wider community.

4. Create a round table to brainstorm a process. The other day I facilitated a round table of leaders from many fields, and after many unexpected angles tossed into the mix, we came up with a renewal project that none of us could have masterminded alone. Have you experienced ideas piggybacked onto others from another position.  Innovation, whether from arts or science, embodies mysteries to ponder. It’s that place that bubbles over in a circle where no brain is left behind. It’s where brilliant solutions tend to flow from pools just outside of prevailing thought, where people build beyond limitations. It’s where a culture of innovative thought hooks difficult facts onto ordinary experiences people live – so that learning increases in less time, with innovative designs as visible results.

5. Collaborate with a person who differs. Innovation rarely waits for situations to improve but shapes dendrite brain cells by outside worlds that spark mental growth based more on what you do than what’s done to you. The opposite of toxic workplaces is a climate of creative collaboration where innovative leaders engage opposing views to discover another design built from different angles. To work together is to listen to new ideas and to engage another’s talents. Partnerships tend to work better when different players share in a common vision, and when the outcomes and expectations are clearly defined.

6. Reward talent. In too many workplaces problems go unsolved while some of the finest minds are left outside of the innovative process. In order to bridge the gap between the multiple intelligences people bring to work, and the problems that need solutions, organizations reward people for refreshing new ideas. As part of that process why not survey your unique intelligences to see which talents you have up and running innovatively. As people at work awaken new intelligences for innovative designs, offer a reward for teams who use most intelligences on a profitable innovation.

7. Pose two-footed questions. The best way to integrate innovation into your firm’s existing practices is to question in ways that lead to creative solutions to stubborn problems. I am presenting an MBA course on innovation to several faculty at a university business school  in New York next week, and I plan to challenge leaders there with the question: What will  innovation look like in the 21st Century, and how can your business school promote creative intelligence through top facilitation of business brainpower?

8. Capitalize on tone tools for tough times. Innovation gets lost in climates where toxins such as bullying or intimidation exist. It can happen faster than lightening strikes an iron rod in an electric storm. When stress or negativity shoot down the best ideas, and innovators wonder whether it’s a lot less stressful to hang up their cleats in favor of doing bare routines, tone tactics act like a vehicle to tug innovation back into play. It helps to invite an example of good tone from a gentle, and effective leader, and discuss how to offer olive branches back and forth at work. Or why not ask other innovators at work what tone they hear in your words and compare their responses to what your words meant to convey.

9. Start social network discussions. Recently I started a back-and-forth on Twitter to toss around insights and brain facts about multi-tasking as it affects innovation. Research shows that multi-tasking works against innovation because it bottle necks the brain’s ability to focus or innovate. Just as all brain wire differently though, I wanted to see how people view multi-tasking as it relates to their own innovation.  Social networks add new colors and textures to facts because people hold up lived experiences to the rainbow for another look.

10. Run from cynics. Have you noticed how stocks rise when people speak hope? Or have you seen financial markets nosedive when naysayers spout doom? Luckily pools of innovative brainpower lie beyond the sea of cynicism. This trend hinges on the fact that hope adds serotonin to spark curiosity and fuel the brain. Cortisol, on the other hand, shuts down originality, and increases fear of failure. Make sense? When cynics spread fear, brainpower shuts down before innovation stands a chance.  When creators spark curiosity imagination kicks in genius.

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