How Using Technology Can Support Creativity and Drive InnovationWritten by: Terry Murray
When we think about human creativity many things may come to mind. Our first thoughts probably go to a favorite musician, an inspiring poet, or a great artist that has moved us in the past. What we usually don’t think about is our work environment. Yet, in today’s economy the driver of value creation is just that; human creativity. For most contemporary companies, the efficient commercialization of intellectual property is mission-critical for success. Unfortunately, the path of innovation is not always linear. The eureka moments of breakthrough creativity are almost always non-linear in their occurrence. A quick canvasing of some of the greatest minds throughout history and science reveals that the flashes of creative insight that opened the door for remarkable, technological advances occur outside of the day-to-day, disciplined toil in pursuit of innovation.
The reason for this is revealed through recent, neurological research that explores not only the brain, but the neurological networks that exists throughout our hearts and bodies as well. Research shows that our modern brain evolved to its present state some 20,000 years ago with roots that extend back some two to four million years. We share what research scientist Dr. Jaak Panksepp calls our Core Mammalian Emotional System with all mammals on the planet. For us, emotions are part of our primary survival mechanism. They include seeking, fear, panic, rage, and depending on the mammal, lust, caring (maternal care for their offspring), and playfulness (the way most mammals learn survival skills) also appear at certain periods in their lives. These emotions are part of our ancient, neurological hardwiring that helped us survive in the wild. They are still an intrinsic part of who we are today.
When we experience a perceived threat (hopefully not too many of us are being stalked by a hungry predator) an ancient part of our brain, the amygdala, responds by focusing our entire cognitive awareness and energy on the threat. At the same time, a cascade of powerful biochemicals is released within our bodies. Adrenaline and cortisol burst throughout our bodies preparing us for flight, fight, or freeze response. These emergency response chemicals are highly corrosive to our long-term health (especially the heart), but give us the strength and explosive response we may need to survive another day. This ancient response system cannot differentiate between a perceived threat and a real one, and it always acts on the side of caution. Better to be wrong than to be lunch.
Within our modern work environment, what’s so important for us to understand is that this response shuts down our creative capacities. Fear can trigger panic, which sets in when we feel we are at risk of being separated from our herd, pack, tribe, or today, our company. Isolation of a social animal in the wild is a death sentence…for us, separation from our livelihood is a perceived economic death sentence. The most common trigger of fear in the workplace is ambiguity; not knowing where we stand and what the future holds for us in the organization. It is often subtle, and can emerge unintentionally through fragmented communication.
This is where technology can help, especially in support of developmental projects or organizational initiatives. When applied appropriately, technology can help alleviate the communicative ambiguity that can inevitably arise in fast moving organizations. When everyone can see where they fit, how their efforts are contributing to the objectives, and understand their integral worth in the process, ambiguity evaporates. Doing so helps keep employees fully engaged with their higher functioning, creative part of their neurological system. The psychological term for this state of consciousness is flow.
Technology can’t drive the non-linear aspects of the creative process into a linear, assembly line of innovative breakthroughs, but it can support and sustain open, transparent communication that optimizes human engagement. Engaged employees are creative employees, and creative employees drive value.