Seven Secrets to Sparking Innovation!

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Good news! Scientists are now providing evidence that we can ALL be highly creative. It isn’t just the preserve of a few, as we may have previously been led to believe.

This is encouraging, especially in the face of fierce competition in the business sphere where we often have to tackle complex, open-ended, dynamic challenges in our increasingly intercultural world. To be successful, organizations know that constant, ongoing innovation is critical to stay ahead of the curve. Businesses and individuals know they need to be on the lookout for new ideas that can drive innovation, and it’s why the ability to think differently, generate new ideas, and spark creativity is such a critical asset. So how can we actively build on cultivating this skill?” Or go a step further:

“What if we could combine science with practical tips to release our inner Edison?”

First the science…When we are being creative, some of the everyday brain areas are completely deactivated, whilst other areas we don’t use in our everyday lives, light up as they become active. This is actually the “medial prefrontal cortex” area, which is responsible for learning association, context, events and emotional responses.

But what triggers a creative state in the first place? Alice Flaherty, one of the most renowned neuroscientists researching creativity has discovered a key ingredient – ‘dopamine’! The more dopamine that is released, the more creative we are. Typical triggers for events that make us feel great and relaxed and give us an increased dopamine flow are activities such as exercising and manual tasks. It also explains why some of our best ideas occur while taking a shower!

However, that’s not all there is to it. Dopamine alone, which gets triggered in events where we aren’t very creative, isn’t the only reason. Another crucial factor is ‘distraction’. As Harvard researcher Shelley Carson puts it:

 “A distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.’’

If you have mulled over a problem all day, going for a walk or a car journey can provide a setting for what scientist’s call the “incubation period” for your ideas. The subconscious mind has been working extremely hard to solve the problems you face but now that you let your mind wander, it can surface and plant those ideas into your conscious mind.

Lastly, after you have received an influx in dopamine, and have been distracted, a relaxed state of mind completes the trio to be creative. As Jonah Lehrer states:

“When our minds are at ease and those alpha waves are rippling through the brain– we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere You’ll find  the answers were there all along–we just weren’t listening.”

Scientifically then, a magical trio of 3 elements: dopaminedistraction and a relaxed state of mind are most likely to spark innovation and give you your best, most creative ideas.

So what 7 practical tips can we use to induce this triple combination to maximum effect:

  1. Shift Perspective: look where other’s don’t: as human beings, we naturally fall into a habit of looking at the world around us with the same eyes and similar perceptions for validation. However, if you take a step back, look for the white space that differentiates your idea from the competition and question what you or others are experiencing – ‘sparks of innovation’ might just fly.
  2. Marvel at the world around you: every day designs provide a stimulus for inspiration. Everything you see around you that’s not natural was originally someone’s idea that has since turned into a reality! Once you understand what may have created this invention in the first place – it may just provide a stimulus for your next big idea!
  3. Bring it to life: write it down, say it out loud, visualize it. This will allow your brain to give your ideas some structure so that you can see it and then play with it (perhaps in 3D), spin it around, reverse it, morph it. Learn to see ideas from different angles thus allowing you to gain perspective and possible solutions.
  4. Do some exercise: in particular, one that doesn’t engage the mind too much such as hiking, running, cycling or swimming, so that your mind can wander. This allows your brain to make free associations – mental connections between seemingly unrelated things that can trigger innovative solutions to pressing problems.
  5. Play like a child: its no coincidence that kindergarten kids have some of the best imagination and can be the best at solving problems. Check out ‘The Marshmallow Challenge’ if you don’t believe me!
  6. Have fun: watch a video, have a good laugh with someone, do something you enjoy. Mood matters when it comes to creativity. Anxiety focuses a person, but relaxed emotions and contentment free up creativity. Having a good laugh is akin to the ‘period of incubation’ allowing you to come back to a problem and look at it in new ways to come up with a solution.
  7. If all else fails, sleep on it! Sleep helps generate new ideas in a myriad of ways. During sleep, the brain consolidates memories and reorganizes thoughts, much like filing. The new arrangement can help extract knowledge and generate new associations and spark innovation.

You now have the tools to release your inner ideas! I would love to hear your thoughts or ideas or if indeed these tips have generated sparks of innovation in you!

Matt Guiver (MAC, IDI®QA) is a transformational coach, trainer and speaker and founder of Jumpstone International:

He has recently launched 1hr JumpSpark Creative Coaching Sessions to help those looking for creative ideas, a strategic steer or a trusted soundboard to successfully implement greater innovation into their businesses.

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