Innovation is a necessity of any leading business or creative venture. In fact, in a study conducted by PwC, the top 1000 companies who spend the most on R&D, invested more than $700bn on innovation, which was 3.2% up from the year before. But the real question that gets lost in these numbers, is: how do you shift your mindset into a growth mindset to know which direction to invest in the first place?
Being able to put what we ‘know’ to the side and lean into what we don’t, is the true beginning of innovation and creativity.
For years, BMX biker Mat Hoffman couldn’t get the impossible out of his mind.
While the X Games were still relatively new, innovators like Mat were continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible. He kept envisioning a 900-degree rotation trick with no hands despite the fact that no one had ever attempted or landed this. He knew he was the one to do it.
Mat was holding the tension of the possible and the impossible. On one hand, he had never seen anyone even attempt this. On the other hand, he believed in his abilities and honored the sense that he could pull it off. He kept playing out different strategies in his mind when he was at home, talking with his wife, or doing errands outside. One day, he was at the mall, and the dots finally connected. He saw how he could rotate himself at just the right speed and how he needed to adjust his body in mid-flight to stick the landing.
A few weeks later, at the 2002 X Games, he was the first to land a 900-degree inverted spin without hands. He became a legend in the sport and was one of the early pioneers who helped bring the X Games to more prominence by pushing the bounds of what is possible.
W.J.J. Gordon was frustrated with how many potato chip bags were filled with mostly air. He wanted to create a product where people were actually getting what they paid for. Yet, he was stuck with the question of how to create a chip that had a pleasant texture but was also dense enough to stack without getting smashed.
Gordon held this question for months, not giving up on his vision. One day, he was raking leaves in his yard and he observed that when the leaves were dry, they were almost impossible to stack into the plastic garbage bags. Yet when the leaves were wet, they were easy to shovel as they naturally folded onto each other.
Voilà! His subconscious mind connected the dots. He saw how he could soak the potato chips in oil, then stack them together, allowing them to form on top of each other naturally. This was the birth of Pringles potato chips.
What Can We Learn from This?
Both Mat Hoffman and W.J.J. Gordon were able to have breakthroughs because they patiently held both sides of a polarity. They didn’t accept the impossibility that the rational mind often puts forward, nor did they rush into the unknown or force the possibilities. Rather, they allowed their intuition and subconscious mind to hold the idea, working in the background to connect the dots until a solution arose. The impossible became possible.
These men both demonstrated Janusian (from the two-faced Roman God) or dialectic thinking. It worked because they weren’t too locked into any single position, and they allowed time and space for their creative genius to emerge and provide the answers.
In your strategy and planning sessions, how often are you already locked into a position or an opinion before you walk into the meeting? How often have you already pre-judged why your sales team is not performing, why your executive team is not cohesive, or why marketing activities are not producing results? Are you first staying open to all possibilities and allowing your team to have this conversation with you, to see what you can all strategize and create together?
Suspend Your Knowing
One of the challenges in strategy and planning is that we have a hard time leaving our biases at the door. Yet true brainstorming and innovative thinking demands that we get out of our predictable, rational mind. We have to get comfortable with holding the tension of what we believe is possible versus what is currently happening.
When we do, new breakthroughs are possible. Thomas Edison went through 1,000 failed attempts before he created the light bulb.
I know what you might be thinking: My business can’t afford 1,000 failed attempts. And while this may have merit, don’t let this type of mindset stop you from having some patience, being willing to suspend your “knowing” for long enough to make you uncomfortable, and then let the process play out.
This is one way your intuition leads you to the next leap of innovation. Suspending what you know allows time for your conscious mind to get out of the way. Then, your subconscious can more quickly connect the dots and make a better strategic decision. What’s one area of your business or department that is challenging you right now, that could use a fresh perspective? How can you hold the tension of opposites, in order for your intuitive intelligence to reveal a new possibility?