Several neuroscience principles limit our ability to creatively solve problems and generate innovative ideas. Understanding some of these principles can help you optimize your creative thinking and innovation processes.
While your brain is working all the time, there are serious energy constraints.
The brain stores no fuel, and running on empty degrades performance significantly. Therefore, it needs frequent breaks from high energy usage.One of the places you experience this brain energy constraint most acutely is during the brainstorming phase. It’s a fast and furious pace of generating ideas, potentially for a long time. Leaders have always known that taking breaks from ideation makes for better results, and this neuroscience principle is obviously why. However, it’s also important to help people understand they actually need to take a brain break, and to have the willpower to do it (instead of checking email or doing other work during the “break”). To help them, plan a little “enforced fun.” This can be things like group juggling, kid-like games or songs like “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, or an impromptu dance session.
You’ll notice many of these activities have a physical element. This physicality also helps with restoring some energy for the intensive brain work.
Another energy-enhancing tip: feed people. A growling stomach is not conducive for maximum output of ideas. Be sure to feed them satisfying food—not just sweets. Offer nuts, cheese, veggies, or fruit. Oh, you can offer sweets too—but always make sure there’s some more sustaining fare, as well.
The brain naturally limits System 2 thinking.
Your brain has two types of thinking:
- System 1 (Fast): is the “easy” type of thinking that we use most of the time. It’s intuitive and automatic. So, obviously, it’s also energy-efficient
- System 2 (Slow): is thinking that requires more deliberation, more focus, more conscious thought, and literally uses more energy. So, we subconsciously avoid it whenever we can.
If you avoid (or limit) System 2 thinking when it’s needed in your innovation process, you will, at the least, miss out on really good ideas—and at the worst, make some bad judgment calls that you might have avoided if you had effectively used System 2.
One of the phases where people frequently try to avoid System 2 thinking is immediately after idea generation, when it’s time to select the best ideas. The brainstorming is usually lots of fun. It’s fast, and our brains are making sub-conscious and intuitive connections. Then comes the time we have to be focused and deliberate to narrow to a manageable set of ideas. Suddenly, it all becomes…a Lot. Less. Fun.
Know that your team will try hard to avoid System 2 thinking, and you need to be prepared to counter the objections, and ensure that the needed deliberate thinking will happen. For example, people will say, “It takes too long to review all the ideas. We don’t have time.” or, “Let’s just have everyone champion a few ideas instead of reviewing all of them. The ones we remember are probably the best ones anyway.” (Which isn’t true, but that’s another topic.)
Another all-too-common scenario — the team has gotten together and spent several hours generating ideas. Then, everyone gets 5 sticky dots to vote for top ideas. Most people will do this in 5 minutes and immediately dash out the door. They weren’t forced to engage System 2 thinking, so they won’t. Their decisions will rely on System 1, with all its concurrent biases, shortcuts, and mistaken intuition. There will never be the deliberate, conscious, effortful thinking that’s needed at this stage. If this is the typical process in your innovation sessions, you need to make some significant changes.
The brain is a “Bayesian inference machine.”
Huh? Bayesian logic is a very specific, formulaic method that provides a disciplined way of combining new evidence with prior models. So, the reference to our brains being a Bayesian inference machine is obviously a metaphor, although a very apt one.
Whenever people are faced with new information, they use it to only slightly refine — not completely rethink — their existing models/beliefs/hypotheses. Rarely do we assume new data means our existing beliefs might actually be wrong. Instead, we make only incremental and minimal adjustments to our existing beliefs; the least possible change in our thinking that will account for the new data.
Further, the more experience you have in a subject, the more of these existing assumptions you have about it. You are likely not even aware of all these embedded assumptions; many of them are so ingrained in your thinking that it wouldn’t occur to you to question them. They are presumed to be fact — if you even consciously recognize that you have these beliefs.
Obviously, to reach truly breakthrough insights and ideas, you must go beyond incremental thinking. To get there, we need to consider the possibility that our view of the world (or the market, or our product category, etc.) might need shaking up. Given that our human tendency is to retain existing mental models, you need to consciously be doing things to help you and your team break out of this natural limitation on new thinking.
Our brains are constantly making short cuts, mostly in the interest of conserving energy. As a result, your brain will subconsciously limit your thinking in ways you’re not aware of, unless you consciously and actively manage it. Remaining vigilant about these neuroscience-based barriers can help you dramatically improve your creative thinking and your innovation processes.
About the Author, Susan Robertson
Susan Robertson empowers individuals, teams, and organizations to more nimbly adapt to change, by transforming thinking from “why we can’t” to “how might we?” She is a creative thinking expert with over 20 years of experience speaking and coaching in Fortune 500 companies. As an instructor on applied creativity at Harvard, Susan brings a scientific foundation to enhancing human creativity. To learn more, please go to: https://susanrobertson.co/
We live in an upside world where the old rules no longer apply. Many call it a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Mass consumerism has been replaced by a new consumption paradigm as people are driven by new essentialism where things matter less and relationships, experiences and self-being dominate all. In this new world, workers are restless, customers fickle, investors skittish, and the public has an appetite to cancel. In order to rally everyone together to stand behind a company and its path during all the ups and downs, leaders need to draw upon emotions as rationality will not carry the day. They have one tool at their disposal to do this delicate work – the brand.
Although often associated with marketing, brands are actually cultural icons that symbolically carry meaning. In just a nano second, they evoke common immediate meaning and emotions across all people. Think BMW, John Deere, Chanel, Apple and American Express. In a world where everything is uncertain, brands can be trusted to stand true. Now, if you don’t have a brand, you can build one. Anyone can. It takes commitment to people, to tell their story and represent their interests with your brand, not your own. If you create a brand that represents the highest common denominator between your people (customers, employees, investors) and your products/services, then you can forge an enduring powerful partnership that will yield surprising dividends for your business. It all begins with understanding the basics of what a brand really means for a business.
ONE – A Brand Resides in the Mind not in a Logo
Although expressed in a logo and a tagline, a brand is actually a mental construct that gets into the mind and lives in the memory of people. Branding is the process of creating the brand in the minds of people. It is typically done by creating things and experiences that “express” the brand such as marketing materials and product design. Brands also live in the culture. Powerful brands like Nike become social concepts and exist in the culture where they continually give people cues and establish the brand as a part of society.
TWO – Brands Set Meaning
Brands give meaning to products. Is an anti-lock braking system (ABS) a breakthrough in performance (BMW) or safety (Volvo)? That depends on the brand. The brand is a mental lens that provides immediate meaning. A Snickers bar is a snack. Tiffany means luxury taste and quality. Apple is about unleashing creativity while IBM is about improving productivity. The brand provides context which tells people why a product is important to them.
THREE – Brands Carry Emotional Power
Like great art, brands are designed to elicit a response, both emotional and rational. Like art they can enchant and often captivate people which creates desire. Marlboro was the first filter-tipped cigarette and was initially launched as a woman’s cigarette which failed. The same product was re-branded as the ultimate masculine smoke and with the swagger of the Marlboro man still remains one of the most powerful brands in the world. Powerful brands are mythologies that evoke emotions that swell to desire.
FOUR – Brands are Fiction Not Fact
Branding is poetry not journalism. Messaging matrixes and value propositions belong to marketers and are fact-based. Branding is another world that is concept-based. Branding brings out the big gun – an idea. A powerful, transcendent, mind-tweaking idea designed to engage the mind and heart at another level. The idea is what catalyzes new behavior and thinking. When Tide gets clothes clean, it means that Mom and Dad are good parents and conveys that message. The Home Depot is a large hardware store, but the brand makes it a Home Center for any current and aspiring do-it-yourselfer.
FIVE – Brands Defy Logic
When you have a powerful brand, you’ll be surprised by what it can do. You will see strong conviction and commitment across employees, customers and investors despite challenges. People tend to defend the brands they love and stay loyal against all odds – better alternatives, cheaper alternatives, easier alternatives. To achieve that kind of priceless cohesion, you have to build and continually maintain the brand campfire – and make it into a bonfire for the whole world to see. At John Deere, they say people bleed green because the brand is so deep.
SIX – Brands Deliver Business Value Multiple Ways
Because powerful brands are sticky, they have the ability to build a moat around the business. Customers remain loyal even in the face of superior performing or lower priced competitors. People forgive and forget product and corporate errors which mitigates losses. People are more willing to try new products, services and experiences from brands they love which accelerates sales. If you have a vision to build an empire, but a brand to amplify the upside and mitigate the downside.
Many corporate executives view the brand as simply a marketing asset. Others like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Elon Musk view it as a corporate asset, part of the business strategy. Once built, a powerful brand can be used to wield influence in many circumstances from the Main Street to Wall Street to Capitol Hill. While products and executives may come and go within a company, the brand can endure forever – as long as it is well maintained.
In a world of fake news where people are becoming increasingly unmoored and where constant shocks and disruptions seem to prevent ‘normal’ from ever being a reality, brands are a reassuring presence that people can depend on. Powerful brands nurture, the people that come to work, buy products and invest in companies. Business always comes down to connecting with people on a human level. Powerful brands are creative concepts that stimulate the imagination and emotions in ways that most CEOs cannot. With a powerful brand, the CEO has a tool to open minds, raise hearts, command attention, bring everyone together and protect the business again in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.
About the Author: Jane Cavalier, CEO and Founder of BrightMark Consulting, is a nationally recognized brand strategist, board member, blogger and author of bestselling business book The Enchanted Brand (Amazon). She helps organizations conquer a changing world with powerful brands and reputations. Recognized for creating breakout brands like Snapple and Qwest, Jane has worked with over 100 organizations including American Express, Johnson & Johnson, ExxonMobil and the U.S. Navy. For more information, visit www.brightmarkconsulting.com.
No single person, no matter how intelligent or experienced, can understand everything there is to know about a given job. Questions will come up, and when they do, the individual – whether a software developer, project manager, sales engineer – or any other title, needs to have a handle on the specific support that is needed, and how to ask for it.
With more people working remotely than ever before, this topic is emerging as a persistent issue. This is particularly true in fields like tech, in which teams must understand how to quickly resolve network and other systemic breakdowns and problems. Here are some ideas how to overcome lack of on-the-job support and seek help:
- Be sure to reach out to the right person. Many times, unhelpful or unsupportive people are acting out of lack of knowledge. Before you text, email, or phone, consider if you are contacting the correct individual. This person may have taken a different position in the company and is no longer current on the issues you need. If you require specific examples of what to do, reach out to someone good at providing practical advice – not someone who offers platitudes like, “You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.”
- Understand the support you need and ask for it Make it clear to colleagues and supervisors alike where you need help. Do you need support on a particular problem? Do you require assistance to better understand the project in its entirety? Perhaps you need to just grasp your specific role in it? Maybe you need greater flexibility to make a deadline. What is it, exactly, that you need? It’s not a good idea to assume that people will automatically know. Tell them.
- Set realistic expectations of others. Many times, people are weathering enough challenges of their own to help out. They may not have the time or resources to be as supportive as you’d like them to be. Is it possible you’re asking for too much? This is where realistic expectations come in. Be sure you’re asking for assistance, nothing more. If your requests are excessive, you will need to start giving back before you can expect any support in return.
- Lack of support often means lack of communication. It can prove difficult to obtain the help you need if there is a big gap in communication. An outgoing person may be happy to talk at length about your problem. But if you assimilate information better by watching a video that explains the issue, contact a colleague who will use a platform like this to help. You may not “get” what the other person is saying or the individual you’re asking might not understand your request because of a communication gap.
- Network, network, network. You can never know too many people! If a trusted colleague quits to take another job with another company and you’ve relied on him exclusively, what then? The plain fact is that people move away, retire, etc. As noted earlier, no single person knows everything. A network of trusted friends, coworkers, mentors, and the like can help in areas where help and support may be lacking. A change of perspective may be what you need instead of relying on the same person.
- Finally, be sure you are willing to accept criticism. We all like to give good advice but we are sometimes awful at accepting the advice of others as it forces us to admit our weaknesses. It’s normal for an individual to think they know more than they actually do. Remember, there is a reason you asked for assistance. Don’t take their suggestion personally. Consider if doing what the person advises will help you professionally. If it will, do it!
In conclusion, never assume a colleague, supervisor or manager understands what you are asking. Don’t rely on a single coworker for assistance and be sure to reach out to the person who can address your problem best. Good luck!
About the Author, Susanne Tedrick
Susanne Tedrick is an infrastructure specialist for Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform. In her work, Susanne helps her clients address needs and challenges surrounding cloud adoption, cost optimization and migration. Susanne is the author of the critically acclaimed “Women of Color in Tech” and the upcoming “Innovating For Diversity”. For more information, please visit: www.SusanneTedrick.com.
What’s your favorite underdog story? Why did you root for them? Whether it is a small company up against a big company or dynasty sports team against the Bad News Bears, you know the stories. You’ve probably seen countless times in every sports history, from the Pirates defeating the Yankees in 1960 to the 1980 USA Olympic Hockey team. Hollywood even makes movies about the loveable underdog. Legends are made because the odds are stacked against them. Have the odds ever been stacked against you? Perfect.
HERE ARE FIVE WAYS YOU CAN WIN AS THE UNDERDOG:
1) Tap Into the “Underdog Effect,” the Odds Against You Can Be an Asset.
Ever wonder why people root for the underdog? More importantly, how can you get people to not only root for you, but come along side and actually help you? When the odds are stacked against you, the crowd is rooting for you. It’s in your DNA. People are programmed to want to help, even people you may not know. People who have money, contacts and skills that could help you beat Goliath. When they see your undogged persistence they are inspired and will use their assets to help you on this seemingly unachievable win. Get their attention, that’s an asset!
Get your story out there and tell it in a compelling way. The bigger your challenge, the more compelling your story. The more compelling your story, the more people will come along side you and help. Even unexpected people of influence or people you don’t know may pitch in and help. Make sure your story includes all the ways the odds are stacked against you. If your Goliath is known as a bully, even better. Get your story on the news, industry magazines, social media, and the papers any, way you can.
2) Decide to Be All-In.
What is the Underdog Effect? Intelligence is something that people love, respect and want more of. You’ve probably heard of EQ, Emotional Intelligence. Now many people are talking about AI, Artificial Intelligence. Now you’re about to discover A.I.I. The Underdog Effect. A.I.I. stands for All-In Intelligence. When you are all-in you think and decide differently. It is because the odds are against you that people not only will people root for you, some will even come along side you and help.
To take advantage of the underdog effect, you must decide. But this isn’t just deciding you are going to win, this is getting every single person on your team to make an all-in decision. Once you “burn the boats” and you make an all-in decision, perspective changes dramatically. You think and act differently. You feel differently. Like a parent caring for the child, there is nothing they won’t do to protect them. What stops you from committing to a dream or challenge like that? Us. We do. Enough is enough.
If one team member is not all-in, it effects the whole team. If one team member is all-in, they can inspire others to follow their lead.
3) Stop Worrying About the “How,” Knowing Exactly How is Optional.
The exciting part is that you may not know how and it’s OK! Embrace it. When we are kids, we dream like rivers flow. We never worry about the “how.” Why does this concern us so much as adults? Because if we can’t see the entire path, we don’t want to start the journey. That is not how successful underdogs win! They don’t worry about tomorrow, they focus on what they can do today, right here, with what they do have.
Underdogs win when they move with purpose even when they don’t know what tomorrow brings. Improvisation is an essential underdog skill. Having the ability to adapt and overcome each obstacle is part of their secret. They welcome mistakes because they are fully aware they can learn, adjust and re-engage. This becomes a huge advantage because the Goliath has a success strategy that they stick too. They are less likely to have to adapt because they usually win. So, their ‘adapting’ muscle is not as strong. If you are the underdog, build yours! It can be a huge advantage.
4) Have an Unexpected Strategy.
This can be a game changer. Here are a couple famous examples. In the movie Rocky II, Mickey, Rocky’s trainer, had him tie his left hand behind his back and trained him to box right-handed. Mickey did for Rocky to protect his blind spot. Also, Apollo Creed the Champion, trained expecting to box a south paw. Surprise. Midway through the fight, Rocky says, “no tricks” and reverted back to boxing lefty again. Yeah, it’s just a movie, but what if you could use that idea?
In the story of David and Goliath, Goliath was a massive, unbeatable warrior. David was a young sheep herder. He was not a seasoned warrior, never mind an equal match for Goliath.
David did not try to flight Goliath sword for sword. Instead, he used a different weapon, a slingshot. Think about this though, it was his weapon. It was one he used for years protecting his herd. The one that came natural to him. The one that gave him confidence. Using a slingshot allowed him to attack without being in the range of being struck by Goliath’s sword. What ‘unexpected strategy’ can you implement.
5) Beat Them at Their Own Game. What if you meet your opponent where they live. What if you out-trained them? In the inspiring true-life story of the 1980s USA Hockey Team was portrayed in the movie Miracle. The coach, Herb Brooks, didn’t pick professional all-star hockey players from the NHL, nope. He didn’t even chose the most outstanding college hockey players, he chose the best ones that would work together as a team. He trained his team to play a different style of play based on flow. To play like style of the Russian Hockey team that were considered to be unbeatable. In the film Coach Brooks decided trained them on this new style, but harder than they had ever worked almost. He chose the players that would train that hard. What if you out trained your competition?
Make no mistake the mindset with any of these strategies is critical when you are the underdog. There was a line delivered by coach Brooks in the film that sums up the mindset. Just before the game where they faced the Russian hockey team, Goliath, Coach Brooks said, “One game. If we played them ten times, they might win nine, but not this game. Not tonight.”
Don’t be a hobbyist; be a lobbyist for your dream. Yeah, some people don’t like lobbyists, but when you are all-in you won’t care what other people think. You don’t have time. Focus. How about you and your team living your own underdog story? Which of the five ways will you use?
About the Author:
Darren LaCroix, founder of Stage Time University.com, is the only speaker in the world with a CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), an AS (Accredited Speaker), and a World Champion of Public Speaking. He is the author of the book 17 Minutes to Your Dream and the co-host of Unforgettable Presentations podcast. Through his live workshops and StageTimeWorkshops.com, he helps good presenters become UNFORGETTABLE. For more information, please visit: www.17minutestoyourdream.com.
By Susan Robertson
The short answer? BOTH. Or NEITHER. It’s solely dependent on how the meeting is structured and managed,
A recent study found that online interactions result in less creativity than face-to-face. The reason: when online, people mostly stare at the screen, rather than letting their eyes wander around, which sparks more divergent thought. But the flaw with this study was that the conditions that actually result in creative thinking were not set; not in the online nor the in-person experiments. So, even though the in-person interactions were slightly more creative, neither were very creative at all, in the absolute.
Effective creative thinking requires adherence to specific guidelines. If done casually, without guidelines, it won’t be effective regardless of online or in-person.
10 RULES FOR BRAINSTORMING SUCCESS – In any environment.
- FREE THEM FROM FEAR – It’s very difficult for people to share ideas if they’re concerned about negative consequences. A climate that helps people get past the fear is critical. One key principle is to prohibit any evaluation (even positive evaluation) during the idea generation phase. All evaluation occurs only after idea generation is complete.
- USE THE POWER OF THE GROUP. Build, combine, and create new ideas in the moment. Don’t just collect ideas that people have already had. The building and combining is where the magic happens. Break up into pairs or small groups to encourage even more building and combining.
- GET OUTSIDE STIMULOUS. Asking the same people to sit in the same place and review the same information won’t result in exciting, new ideas. Talk to your customers, talk to other experts, explore what other industries are doing. Have the in-person meeting in a park or museum. If online, mail everyone some dollar-store toys in advance, or play music or show unusual pictures.
- ENCOURAGE THE CRAZY. Something often heard at the beginning of a brainstorming: “Every idea is a good idea.” Followed by a collective eye roll because no one believes it. While it’s not true that every idea is a practical idea, it is true that every idea can offer useful stimulus for additional ideas. Sometimes ideas thrown in as jokes can be the spark that leads to new direction and a winning idea. So allow, encourage, and use every idea, even if only for creative fodder.
- IT’S A NUMBERS GAME. The more “at bats” you have, the more likely you are to hit a home-run. Drive for quantity. Ensure the session is long enough to generate lots. If you only spend 10 minutes, don’t expect great results.
- LAUGH A LOT. Humor stimulates creativity, so let it happen. One easy way – have everyone introduce themselves by answering a fun or silly question. Here’s one used in a session in December – “What’s something you DON’T need more of for the holidays?” The resulting answers were hilarious, and some even started sparking real ideas.
- HOMEWORK IS REQUIRED. Both individual and group efforts are critical for success. Insist on individual preparation. Ensure everyone knows the goal, and ask them to do some homework in advance.
- IT’S NOT CASUAL. Effective brainstorming requires skillful facilitation, which is a different set of skills from managing other meeting types. There must be a designated facilitator, who is NOT the primary problem owner. The role of the facilitator is to objectively manage the process. Ideally, the facilitator should be someone who has no stake in the outcome and can remain neutral to all content. Designate a facilitator far enough in advance that the person has time to fully plan the session, and potentially to study up on how to do it well.
- IF IT LOOKS LIKE A DUCK, BUT DOESN’T ACT LIKE A DUCK, IT’S NOT A DUCK. If you can’t, or don’t intend to, follow the guidelines for successful brainstorming, then don’t call it brainstorming. For example, a meeting that just becomes a stage for one person to spout their opinions isn’t useful. And if a brainstorming is not organized and structured appropriately, everyone will feel how ineffective it is, and they’ll be sure to skip your next session. So, either set up for success, or don’t bother.
- YOU’RE NOT DONE UNTIL YOU DECIDE. Everyone has been in this situation; it’s the end of a brainstorming session, a long list of ideas has been created, and someone volunteers to type up the list. And…. that’s it. There’s no action, or at least none that we’re aware of. It’s demotivating to spend time and energy generating ideas only to feel they went nowhere. Plan time for selecting and prioritizing the ideas during the session. Spend at least an equal amount of time on converging as you do on diverging. Yes, you read that right. If you generate ideas for an hour, also spend at least an hour on selecting, clarifying, and planning. If you leave with a huge list of nebulous, potential ideas, that’s not success. The outcome should be a short list of clear ideas, and a plan for action.
Whether in-person or online, creativity happens when the correct conditions are set. If you’re doing it casually, without guidelines, and without skillful facilitation, it may not be tremendously effective. However, with appropriate focus on the process and environment, and by following these rules, you can effectively generate creative solutions in any setting.
About the Author: Susan Robertson empowers individuals, teams, and organizations to more nimbly adapt to change, by transforming thinking from “why we can’t” to “how might we?” She is a creative thinking expert with over 20 years of experience speaking and coaching in Fortune 500 companies. As an instructor on applied creativity at Harvard, Susan brings a scientific foundation to enhancing human creativity. To learn more, please go to: https://susanrobertson.co/.