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Transdisciplinary Knowledge for Holistic Innovation

By: David Elliott and Rob Barker
Posted: June 1, 2012, from the June 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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First, perhaps it is useful to elaborate a little further on the way the brain seems to work. It has been established that the left side of the brain is the logical side, working to solve problems in a straightforward, rational way. Jonah Lehrer argues that the right side flashes into life only if you are stumped, acting like an organic search engine to reassemble previously unconnected thoughts, memories and unconnected events.5 Logic flies out of the window, and essentially the solution mysteriously appears to hand. Although Lehrer does not specifically make this point, it is likely that those who accept that this can happen are more likely to be comfortable with ideas that are generated in this way. There may be no logical reason for the idea, but it could be right; however, scientists may find this difficult.6

In Imagine, Lehrer goes on to map conditions that can create a favorable environment for companies and societies to be innovative. According to Lehrer, employee freedom and mingling appear to be key—as evidenced by the environments at 3M and Pixar—with all divisions, departments and disciplines adding ideas. This promotes the apparent hypothesis that ideas appear to come out of the blue, and when they occur, these epiphany moments come to a conclusion that is crystal clear.

Engaged Environment

Research on compound remote associate problems from scientists such as Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University has shown that the brain (parts of the cortex) enables people to make sense of metaphors.5 Basically, the left brain sees the trees while the right brain sees the wood.

To promote this in companies, it is important to create relaxed environments that foster creativity. Blue rooms seem to foster innovation—relaxed associations. People need to have control over their own focus, and companies must trust their employees to pursue worthwhile opportunities and projects. In fact, Lehrer hypothesizes productive moments may come only after you stop thinking of them.5

Thus more is not necessarily better. Too much stress reduces creativity, while too little blocks may block it. Companies also must be aware of the dangers of burnout, particularly in non-routine tasks. Narrow input will produce narrow output, but exposure to unfamiliar perspectives may favor creativity.7 Creativity seems to be stimulated by mood swings and “getting out of your head.” Thus, reducing inhibitions appears to prompt creativity.