“Though I had success in my research both when I was mad and when I was not, eventually I felt that my work would be better respected if I thought and acted like a ‘normal’ person.”John Forbes Nash, Jr
Innovation is a trend now as key to success. Everyone talks about and everyone tries to innovate.
Innovation in business is basically a tool for growing: Do new things that make us grow.
But innovation is famously difficult — many projects end up losing money, frustrating employees, and going nowhere. And yet corporations and governments spend billions of dollars annually pursuing innovation. This huge spending would generate more value for businesses and societies if the innovation success rate were just a little higher. Is there a way to increase the success rate without spending more?
The innovation process is widely discussed in academic ground. New theories and approaches come into light as the new recipe cookbook that will lead you into a more successful innovation. The truth is: innovation is difficult, and we don’t really know how to do it right or better. Basically, we focus too much on the tangible part of innovation than on the intangible one. Surely, because it is the easiest. Anyway, as we are understanding better the intangible, as the brain processes to generate new good ideas, we start shedding light and improving the innovation heuristics, raising slowly their success rate.
HOW TO COME UP WITH A GOOD IDEA
At the end, most innovation theories try to systematize an intellectual process: HOW TO COME UP WITH A GOOD NEW IDEA. Defining GOOD as those WITH A DESIRED IMPACT.
Ideation in the innovation process is the phase where new ideas emerge. New good ideas are not easy to get. The more “disruptive”, the harder.
There are basically two main strategies here:
1.- QUANTITY. As the creative part, talent is difficult to constrain and manage, we can go for numbers. The path to get most surely a good new idea in a reasonable period it is to come up with as many ideas as possible. Kind of, we want to win a lottery so, the only possible strategy it is to get as many numbers as possible.
According to the large number law, the average of the results obtained from a large number of trials should be close to the expected value, and will tend to become closer as more trials are performed. The more ideas we get, the more probably they will converge around some common concepts. It will reinforce and reassure our pre-ideation phase expected outcome, gaining credibility through large number triangulation. But this is not what ideation should be about, or at least not mainly.
The stranger potentially good ideas are, the closer to disruptive innovation and differentiation from any other competitors, reaching new market spaces. Therefore, we should be focusing, not where the ideas converge but, on the potentially good abnormalities. Ideation process goal should be arising abnormalities more than converging by numbers. Quantity cannot assure to get more of those ideas, but talent, the second main strategy in ideation, can.
2.- TALENT. Basically, it means to gather the most creative people possible to work on getting new good ideas. We increase our performance rate increasing the performance rate of the team. Not only getting more potentially good ideas, but also more divergent ones. The main issue here is defining talent in an ideation phase. Not so an easy task.
How do we find this specific creative talent?
In order to try to shed some light on the creative process, let’s take a brief look into a subject inherently fueled by constant new ideas and concepts: MATHEMATICS
MATHEMATICS: WHERE CREATIVE IDEAS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
In mathematics, it is not the fire of logic, or not only, what feeds the mathematical machine; it does intuition, analogy, experimentation, conjecture, the human thought as a whole.
Happy thoughts exist, but neither are they restricted to geniuses or all problems are solved with them. Its production is the result of intense and continuous work, as well as the search for relationships between elements of a problem. Of the almost innumerable relationships that can be expressed between the data or elements of a problem, how can we choose the one of those that solve it? In the choice of “good possibilities” lies precisely mathematical creativity.
But that feeling or intuition of perceiving relationships or harmonies hidden or shared by apparently different things seems not to be common to everyone.
In 1904, Henry Poincaré, famous French mathematician, explained in a psychologist conference how his creative process was.
The creative process in mathematics, according to him, is to choose the useful combinations, very scarce, among the useless, abundant in excess.
The creative process of Poincare is summarized in phases. It begins with an arduous and prolonged work on the subject (a couple of weeks). Then, an unaccustomed event (drinking black coffee) prevents him from sleeping, and ideas crowd him during the vigil. Then two ideas are linked and established. Then the results are written. It follows a conscious and deliberate idea guided by an analogy. He enters another phase in which he performs an activity unrelated to mathematics (geographical trip) and in which he forgets about mathematical work. Right in the middle of the performance of a daily act (getting on a bus) comes up a key relationship between seemingly disparate elements (Fuchsian functions and those of non-Euclidean geometry). Back at home, he checks the result is satisfactory.
The sudden illumination of Poincaré responds to a long period of intense mental activity, conscious and unconscious. And that unconscious work, sometimes more productive than the conscious, seems only to activate after a time of intense conscious work, as if we had left the computer on standby or minimized a window to open another program and work on other tasks. But the waiting program, that on the minimized window, continues to work and comes up with a solution that we will only be aware of when reactivating it again, by deploying it again, either with a voluntary click or, simply, closing all other programs and windows. Poincaré emphasized the role of periods of voluntary effort, even if they were sterile, because without them nothing happened.
Poincaré focused creativity on relating apparently different things, in analogy.
HOW BRAIN WORKS
During last years big advances has been done in neurosciences. Brain imaging has started to allow us to see and understand how the brain works, avoiding medieval approaches.
Creativity is equivalent to mental fluency, and with many psychologists who emphasize the role of associations or combinations of ideas in the course of such fluency. Now, the creative essence does not reside in the production of associations, but in the “criterion to differentiate the trivial from the genuinely good ones”. Psychologists agree that the creative activity consists in a special form of solution of problems characterized by its novelty, lack of conventionalism, persistence and effort of the resolutory process.
Basically, when we face a problem, first to act is our left hemisphere. The analytical, logical, executive part of the brain tries to solve it a linear approach.
We go on and on. If we don’t find any answer, but we keep struggling, making it clear the problem is important enough, then it goes to the right part of the brain: the unconscious, creative side for a non-linear, bottom-up approach.
It is just when we not only think about it but start dreaming about it.
There, strange solutions and analogies are suggested. And then, it comes the prefrontal lateral lobe, kind of a filtering department. All these non-linear solution proposals go through it and those that pass get back to the left side, to the analytical part or consciousness. There, they are validated and developed with our linear approach tools.
At this point, it is when experience and vision provide in a conscious way the “criterion to differentiate the trivial form the genuinely good ones”.
The main issue seems that with experience, the filtering scheme gets also stiffer so fewer crazy ideas go through it.
How should we be selecting then the right talent? Those with no experience, young, are the ones more easily coming up with new ideas, but they lack the ability to sort them up properly. And those with experience, to know how to sort crap from potentially good ideas, are the ones coming up with fewer new ideas.
All this is true, but in the case of high level schizotypy people, the ones closest to the border to schizophrenia but in the healthy side. The eccentric/elastic connections arise from decreased activity in the brain’s cognitive filtering system. A lax cognitive filter promotes a high level of schizotypy, a tendency toward original thinking and nonconformist behavior, while a stringent filter produces what psychologist call cognitive inhibition, leading to conventional thought and action.
In schizotypy people, most of the ideas generated in the creative side get to the surface of consciousness, to the right-executive side. Therefore, being able, if they got the right experience, to sort out a great bunch of ideas between potentially good ones or just crap.
THE SCHYZO TEST
If you want to know where you are in the schyzotypy spectrum, here there is a test as is shown in the book Elastic from Leonard Mlodinow.
“Psycologists have developed various personality questionnaires to assess where people fall on the spectrum. Below is an example of one of these questionnaires. If you want to test yourself, simply answer the following twenty-two statements/questions with a yes or a no, and then tally the number of “yes” responses.
1_ People sometimes find me aloof and distant.
2_ Have you ever had the sense that some person or force is around you, even though you cannot see anyone?
3_ People sometimes comments on my unusual mannerisms and habits.
4_ Are you sometimes sure that other people can tell what you are thinking?
5_ Have you ever noticed a common event or object that seemed to be a special sign for you?
6_ Some people think that I am a very bizarre person.
7_ I feel I have to be on my guard even with friends.
8_ Some people find me a bit vague and elusive during a conversation.
9_ Do you often pick up hidden threats or put-downs from what people say or do?
10_ When shopping, do you get the feeling that other people are taking notice of you?
11_ I feel very uncomfortable in social situations involving unfamiliar people.
12_ Have you had experiencies with astrology, seeing the future, UFOs, ESP, or a sixth sense?
13_ I sometimes use words in unusual ways.
14_ Have you found that it is best not to let other people know too much about you?
15_ I tend to keep in the background on social occasions.
16_ Do you ever suddenly feel distracted by distant sounds that you are not normally aware of?
17_ Do you often have to keep an eye out to stop people from taking advantage of you?
18_ Do you feel that you are unable to get “close” to people?
19_ I am an odd, unusual person.
20_ I find it hard to communicate clearly what I want to say to people.
21_ I feel very uneasy talking to people I do not know well.
22_ I tend to keep my feelings to myself.
Number of “yes” responses: ….
In a study of about 1.700 subjects to whom this test was administered, the average score _ the number of yes responses_ was about six. If you responded yes to two of fewer of these statements and questions, you are in roughly the bottom quarter of the population. If you answered yes to thirteen or more, you are high on the scale, in roughly the top 10 percent. Over the years, those who scored high on such tests tended to be both eccentric and gifted at elastic thinking skills, especially divergent thinking.”
Over the years, those who scored high on such tests tended to be both eccentric and gifted at elastic thinking skills, especially divergent thinking
If you expect from your innovation team more than just copy paste from different sources, make sure to include some people with high level schyzotypy. Having always into consideration:
1.- To reach the tipping point when the unconscious brain starts to generate creative ideas requires a previous intense analytical approach to solve the problem. Get tired of trying to solve it on the logical way.
2.- The creative activity is not just the ability to generate new ideas but to get them to reach the consciousness. People with a relaxed filtering system is more likely to bring to surface new creative ideas.
3.- Experienced people are more likely to easily identify potential good ideas from crap ones. Experience provides vision.
4.- Usually, the more experience the more rigid filtering system. We get better on selecting potential good ideas, but fewer ideas arrive to the assessment department.
5.- Schyzotypy people possess a relaxed filtering system independently of their experience.
Summing up, a potential strategy to increase innovation success rate in an organization could be: build an innovation team including some functional experienced schyzotypy people, put them into hard working on solving a problem through analytical approach. Once they reach a saturation point, a tipping point when they start dreaming on the problem, bring as many random/diverse background inputs (a typical brainstorming workshop with people not involved in the project may be a good one to fuel the creative spark) and then wait for your team to deliver some potential good creative answers in a short time.
Make sure to include some people with high level schyzotypy in your innovation team
A FINAL NOTE
Let’s finish talking about an extreme case, the mathematician John Nash, about whom the book A Beautiful Mind was written. Nash, during the period of his illness, had believed that aliens from outer space had recruited him to save our world. When he was well again, a curious mathematician friend asked him how he could have believed that “crazy” idea.
“Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did,” Nash said. “So, I took them seriously.”