If reaching optimal brain function requires longer than an hour-long meeting, we must schedule time for innovation, argues Adam Kingl.
In my many conversations with organisations about their quest to be more creative, the challenge that I hear more than any other is, ‘We just don’t have enough time.’ Yet these same organisations complain that their relevance is declining daily because they are not as innovative as they need to be, governed by the tyranny of the daily schedule, the hundred emails, the endless conference calls.
So I offer one hack for individuals and organisations to be more creative that has little to do with bringing in jugglers, sticky notes on the wall, or foosball tables – be disciplined about carving out time to dream, brainstorm, prototype and look outside your immediate silo. After advising companies whose very existence depends on their creative capacity, such as Disney and Pixar, I found one crystal clear distinction in their daily habits versus those in organisations from just about any other industry. Companies who depend on innovation prioritise it in their daily activities. I know – shocking idea, right?
But I’m not asking you to trust my own experience or instinct. Let’s look to the neuroscience as to why this advice may be mission critical. We cannot trust that only hurried, captured moments of precious time for creativity will yield anything but paltry results. Our brains can’t turn on the creative magic for such short, unsustained periods of time.
It's a state of mind
There are several brain states from deep sleep to normal consciousness to deep focus and peak performance. The higher the performing brain, the higher the brain wave frequency, hence Hertz is the degree of measurement. Our typical brain state during a normal work day is beta (14-30 Hz). You might disagree and suggest it’s theta (4-8 Hz), which is light sleep, and I would neither agree or disagree with you until I experienced your employer! But beta is probably our normal state and theta when we’re in committee meetings, agreed? Beta is what we require of our brains to accomplish our normal tasks of answering emails and solving our workaday problems.
Neuroscientific research has revealed that our brains can stay in beta for a long time and in fact are conditioned to stay there. As a result, if we crank the mental engine to get up to gamma (30-70 Hz) for peak performance and creative thinking the brain through habit easily and proactively usually drags us back to beta. Therefore, if we need our brains to be in gamma in order to be truly innovative, genuinely adding previously unheard of insight and exponentially big ideas, our brains would struggle to do that in, say, a one-hour meeting once a week, no doubt in the creative committee meeting! Beta state is like a constant and familiar noise; it’s the ever-present static of our work lives that can block gamma state. I compare it to how it’s hard for me to think when I’m eating an apple because I have this magnified constant crunching noise in the echo chamber of my skull.
We can’t shut off the laundry list of actions and decisions we have to make, even if we’re completely confident in our ability to make them. Beta is our habit, our rhythm, our tyranny. Because we don’t have balance between the mundane and the creative, we can’t achieve innovation even if we give ourselves those fleeting thirty minutes a week to do so. We have to fight for our right to be innovators.
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