Innovation in Isolation: How to Trigger your Creativity

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” Rollo May

Our journey towards the isolation economy is well underway as workers are getting increasingly comfortable working from home. Unfortunately, however, as we work in isolation, we miss out on some of the positive elements of workplace interaction and collaboration that we have taken for granted. As working from home becomes the new normal, we will need to relearn many of our previous collaborative activities and make them as productive they used to be, while secluded in our homes.

Nowadays, we are forced into working from home by a once-in-a-generation pandemic, but many of our isolation behaviours will persist once the coronavirus is behind us. Even though remote work has certain advantages and may also enhance productivity in many respects, innovation is one thing that becomes harder to do and may suffer as a result.

There has a general feeling that more meetings have occurred since the isolation began, more than we used to before. During the first week, it was about catching up with everyone to talk about the latest news, vent and get support, but then by the second week, it became apparent that people were scheduling meetings to avoid being alone.

In our modern lives with never ending social media and on demand entertainment, we had already excelled in avoiding being alone, especially when these services use psychological triggers to keep us always-on and engaged in a continuous content consuming frenzy. We have started to hate being alone according to a 2014 study: “many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts” for even 6–15 minutes.

Innovation is difficult in Isolation

Innovation in isolation is hard because human creativity needs idea sharing and interaction to flourish. Breakthroughs never come from lone inventors who toil alone in a dusky lab. Instead, they thrive when ideas are shared, challenged, and refined. For this reason, local coffee shops and office cafeterias have always been hubs of creativity and innovation.

Increases in population density have always led to a higher rate of idea generation, productivity, and economic output. Cities are where innovation happens, and this is due to the increased opportunity for the exchange and clash of concepts. The ability to share ideas is the primary reason innovation is localized. Silicon Valley and Seattle have become the hotbeds for technology innovation. Similarly, other cities have become centres for innovation for automobiles, banking, financial services, and other industries.

Innovation only happens when knowledge builds on knowledge and ideas build on ideas. When you are working from home, you have fewer collaborative encounters, and the rate of innovation suffers.

When workers are isolated, co-workers are unable to have unstructured and spontaneous discussions that serve as the root of innovation. Yes, you can have productive meetings using Zoom. But the casual conversation you have while walking in and out of a conference room or meeting someone in the breakroom doesn’t happen, and those are the chance encounters that often lead to flashes of creativity and innovation.

But innovation is still possible. Today, even potential vaccines for coronavirus, designed to end our solitude, are being developed in isolation. But vaccine development is progressing at a rapid rate because scientists around the world are and sharing their research. This collaboration is critical for allowing advances to being built on top of one another.

Creativity and the Science Behind It

There is solid evidence that proves why solitude, if harnessed mindfully, can improve our creativity in everyday life. And it all starts with brain waves.

For instance, when we’re in deep sleep, the brain enters into the Delta wave, which is an unconscious state when repair and healing occur. If we move towards consciousness, the next wave is Theta, which activates during light sleep. One is usually in Theta just before sleeping and just after awakening. While these waves are fantastic for random creations and ideas (remember that crazy dream you had the other day?), we can’t easily enter them at will or control them.

On the opposite end, we have Gamma waves, which represent the brain processing information and learning with intense focus, and Beta waves, which is the reductive state of mind — alert and focused. We’re operating in a Beta state for most of our day, making reductive decisions and executing.

Alpha Power

In the middle of these two extremes, we have the Alpha wave, which is produced when the brain is in a relaxed, unfocused state usually associated with being awake but idle (i.e. not concentrating on any specific thing). Alpha waves are correlated with creativity since creativity requires expansive thinking instead of reductive. According to a 2015 study, researchers could trigger a surge in creativity if they specifically focused on enhancing alpha waves. In this study, they used electrical triggers, but it’s widely accepted that meditation and mindfulness also work in getting the brain in an Alpha state.

And herein lies the magic. We can actively try to influence our brains to produce alpha waves for creative thinking and problem solving. Think of the places where you usually get your best ideas. For most people, the answer is while taking a shower and lying in bed just before going to bed. We’re now isolated in potentially the most alpha-inducing environment we could be. But we need to see past the confinement and into the opportunity that’s right in front of us.

How the Internet Came to Life

There are ways you can create massive and world-changing innovations while working from home, but you need to be deliberate about it. Since you will always need collaboration and idea-sharing for innovation to happen, you need to learn how to do so without the benefit of a physical interaction.

The best way to innovate in a remote environment is by creating a community of people who work on solving a problem independently, but collaboratively. Such communities, called Networked Improvement Communities, have been responsible for some of the most breathtaking innovations. As an example, take the development of The Internet, the most significant creation of our time.

The Internet was created through idea sharing and networked improvement. Designed by a group of pioneers working independently across universities and research institutions around the world, it was driven by a common desire to have different computers connected to each other. Creating the Internet required a high degree of information sharing, and its development was guided by a manifesto that was adopted voluntarily by a diverse set of innovators who shared in the common goal.

Networked improvement communities require a shared goal or shared area of interest and require multiple people working, usually independently, toward developing solutions to achieve the common goal—the communities need to agree to share progress with others. The network as a whole then uses what they learn from each member, and this boosts the collective knowledge of all participants and gets the entire community closer to achieving the shared goal. This is how breakthroughs are most likely to occur.

Forward-thinking organisations across health care, education, technology, and other sectors have created Networked Improvement Communities to boost innovation. Understanding and implementing these innovation communities in your organization can enhance your ability to develop significant new offerings that can change the world.

Take that time for yourself. Just enjoy the silence or do some meditation. If the fancy takes it, jot some things down or paint your wall or discuss within yourself how the world might be a better place. It is in these moments that we find clarity, unexpected solutions and a childlike wonder at how we ourselves are all we need. Let your imagination take you there. Don’t force it.

Given our current situation knowing that your colleagues or employees are best suited for this new scenario we find ourselves in. Finding the right talent, the best fit for the job and your organisation can be a very challenging task. It is now important to find out whether your managers or your team is well-equipped of working together from various locations. It requires deep knowledge of their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, interests, work style and other characteristics. Our technology and solutions will do the work for you, helping you discover if your people are resilient during times of hardship, if they are autonomous, if they are team players, without actual human contact. Given that our platform is cloud-based, everyone can use it from home as well. Humanity finds itself at a crossroad for various reasons now, why not help people discover and develop themselves from the comfort of their own homes?

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Innovation through Failure

For the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, every practice session ends up with something a little bit surprising and that the analysis of their mistakes. The pilots do not congratulate each other on their training achievements, but rather say what they did wrong in front of the whole group and how they plan to fix that issue. Even though they are expert aviators, the Blue Angels do not allow their pride to come in the way of further improvement. Their approach is meant to strengthen ownership, to encourage the desire of being better and also coming up with a plan for it as well.

Failure is often seen as inevitable, but the way in which it should be viewed is invaluable. Failure is common in all industries, economic situations and market trends; it is one of life’s best philosophies. If your employees do not fear failure, they have a very good chance of succeeding. Fear is a very powerful component of the human mind, it makes people disengage, panic and pull out of possibly prolific business opportunities. The past cannot be fixed, but learning from past experiences can enable employees into harnessing a strong sense of innovation. Here are just a few tips through which companies can enable their workers to be more innovative.

  1. Creating an innovation prone environment

This has to start right from the very top. CEOs and CFOs have to start creating an internal ecosystem in which innovation can flourish. In order to begin garnering innovation, there has to be a clear vision of what the company wishes to achieve and how innovation is at the very heart of it. Leadership teams within the organisation have to figure out the right way in which employees can be motivated and inspired in order for them to deliver on any innovative ideas the company may want to implement.

Of course, selection and recruitment play a very important role in this matter. The HR department has to recruit the right candidates, people who are well-trained on how to come up with ideas and to properly establish what kind of tools and resources they require in order to create, test and receive feedback from customers. All of these processes together help create an innovative culture. An organisation that tries out a lot of ideas will definitely encounter failure but chances are, success is closer than ever. Due to the fact that companies have numerous initiatives, they improve their chances that one of them will be a major score.

  1. Outside-the-box thinking and aggressiveness

Usually, the basic culture of a team promotes safe-playing. In layman’s terms, be on time, try not to upset the hierarchy, follow the group norms and have a steady paycheck. This type of model is clearly an innovation killer and can put an organisation light years behind the competition. For example, entrepreneurs have never been people who play it safe. Also, they praise employees within their organisation that actually do something and are outside-the-box thinkers. Managers have to make sure their teams do not rest on their laurels because there is no such as thing as a one-size-fits-all game plan. It is essential that entrepreneurs and managers empower their workers to come forward with their ideas, to present their action plan and put it into practice afterwards.

Of course mistakes and odd product releases may happen but that is simply part of the business world as we know it. In the 1950s, the Jacuzzi brothers invented a whirlpool bathtub in order to treat people with arthritis. Even though the product worked in the way it was intended, from a sales point of view it was a total bust. Unfortunately for them, their target market was small, due to the simple fact that not a lot of people could afford expensive bathtubs. The idea was killed immediately after but was relaunched in a completely different market – luxury item for the rich. Obviously, it was an instant hit.

In 1959, Honda Motor Company entered the US market with their range of low-powered motorcycles. Things were going from bad to worse for Honda, as it learned in a very cruel way that what was tremendously popular in Tokyo suburb areas was a complete flop on American soil. After a while, they came back in the US with high-powered bikes that became an instant success. The founder of Honda, Soichiro Honda had this to say: “Many people dream of success. Success can only be achieved through repeated failure and introspection. Success represents the one percent of your work that results from the 99 percent that is called failure.”

Great deals of successes have been failures in the beginning. What today may seem like a logical invention that was meant exactly for that purpose, this is not always the case. People have to ready to fail; success cannot be achieved without gaining all the necessary variables from a problem. At Penn State University, there is a course for engineering students which is called Failure 101. The sole purpose of this class is for students to take risks and do as many experiments as possible. The more fails they have it gets them that much closer to an A grade.

Another great example is Christopher Columbus. He set out to discover a new and easier route to India. He landed in America and the rest is history. Pfizer scientists were testing a drug called Viagra which was meant to reduce high blood pressure. After further investigations it lead to the discovery of the effects it had on men, thus making Viagra one of the most successful failures in recent history. Another great example is regarding champagne. It was invented by a monk called Dom Perignon and it happened when a bottle of wine had fermented twice. 3M invented glue that wasn’t sticky enough. However, it was the basis for the invention of our daily used Post-it notes.

A leader who thrives on innovation will always encourage a culture of experimentation. People must learn that every failure they encounter is another step closer towards the road to success. Allow your employees to have the necessary freedom to innovate, to experiment and to be successful. All in all, it means allowing them the freedom to fail as well.

Great People Inside provides easy-to-use tools and processes to attract, assess, match, select, onboard, manage, develop, benchmark and maintain workforces anywhere in the world.

Finding the right talent, the best fit for the job and your organisation can be a very challenging task. It requires deep knowledge of your own organisation’s culture and a keen understanding of the candidate’s personality, strengths, interests, work style and other characteristics. Our technology and solutions will do the work for you, helping you find employees who can flourish and reach the highest performance required to constantly bring your company forward.

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