No shortcut to novel business innovation


Professionals often find themselves chasing that elusive spark of inspiration—the ‘aha’ moment. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

In the bustling world of business, professionals often find themselves chasing that elusive spark of inspiration—the ‘aha’ moment. Society conditions us to believe that these moments act as gateways to revolutionary ideas.

We sit around searching for inspiration and think it will come in a singular moment of clarity and innovation.

However, recent research presents a challenge to this popular notion, suggesting that true creativity does not merely arise in a sudden burst but evolves and deepens over time.

Diving deeper into the world of creativity, one observes a labyrinthine landscape rather than a straight path to brilliance.

This terrain, rich with twists and turns, is where ideas mature, intertwining with past insights and weaving the fabric of innovation. But in this intricate journey, our beliefs about creativity often mislead us.

We might envision innovation as a mental dam breaking, releasing a flood of ideas all at once. In reality, it is more akin to a river, meandering and picking up depth and momentum as it flows.

The most profound insights often lie not at the outset but further downstream, waiting to be discovered by those persistent enough to venture there.

Brian Lucas and Loran Nordgren delved deep into this phenomenon in their study. The research revealed a startling discrepancy between how individuals perceive their creative trajectories and how these trajectories actually unfold.

Most professionals expect their creative juices to wane and fall as an ideation brainstorming session progresses.

They anticipate a diminishing return on their creative efforts. Yet, in reality, the opposite usually proves true. The more they persevere, the richer and more diverse their ideas become.

This misalignment in perception and reality has been aptly termed by social scientists as the “creative cliff illusion.”

Imagine a team of designers brainstorming for a groundbreaking product. Initially, they might spew out ideas that echo familiar themes, relying on brain cognitive patterns well-trodden.

But as the session stretches on, and as the easy, more obvious ideas get exhausted, the real magic begins.

Minds wander into less-explored territories, forming novel associations and birthing more original concepts.

Yet, the research suggests that many professionals prematurely truncate this process and stop far too early.

They pull the plug just when they should be doubling down. Believing they have already peaked and come up with their best ideas already, they move on, potentially missing out on the most innovative concepts lurking just around the corner.

Essentially, giving up too early in the creative process holds negative consequences of subpar ideas.

Managers and business leaders will find that these results hold significant implications. By misjudging the creative process, they risk underutilising the full potential of their teams.

Instead of fostering environments where extended brainstorming sessions flourish, they might cut them short. Or worse, they might allocate insufficient time for such endeavours, thinking that the best ideas will surface quickly.

Some short-term discomfort by spreading out brainstorming sessions and making them longer will yield exponential long-term rewards that will not feel immediately obvious.

Companies eager to harness the power of innovation must also take heed. The path to groundbreaking ideas does not lie in fleeting “aha” moments but in the painstaking process of persistence, patience, and continuous ideation.

Recognising the true nature of creativity not only requires acknowledging its gradual evolution but also necessitates crafting strategies that accommodate and nurture this evolution.

Firms can put in standard operating procedures that nurture required time expansion for creativity.

In summary, our drive for quick wins and instant gratification clouds our judgement as business professionals. All the while, we instead must remember that some of the best solutions emerge from the crucible of sustained effort.

The next revolutionary business idea might not come in a flash of inspiration but after hours of persistent brainstorming both individually and as a team.

In recognising and respecting this process, businesses stand to gain not just fleeting moments of brilliance, but a sustained culture of innovation.

Have a management or leadership issue, question, or challenge? Reach out to Dr Scott through @ScottProfessor on Twitter or on email at [email protected].

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