It’s like pistons in an engine. A spark creates an explosion that drives the piston but friction eventually slows it down — requiring more combustion to keep it in motion. Ideas are like a spark that ignites creative energy but the friction created by logic often slows things down to a halt.
I define Innovation Agility simply as the act of repeatedly shifting between creative and logical thinking. From the birth of an idea all the way through to commercialization, innovation benefits from this rhythmic competency as it helps teams solve problems quickly, identify or invent solutions required to make an idea feasible, and create a culture of patience so that ideas have time to incubate and transform from good to great.
Most companies, however, are built upon a cultural foundation that values and rewards logic and analytical mindsets. Processes, policies, and business models — all analytical, left-brain systems put in place to help promote compliance and predictability while mitigating risk.
And just when everything seems under control, along comes the innovation agenda! In the midst of all this logical infrastructure, employees are suddenly encouraged to use the right side of their brain and share their collective creative genius!
The result? An inevitable tug of war! One side clings to the known while the other side embraces the unknown. One side digs into the past while the other side attempts to pull everyone toward the future.
This tension has existed for centuries and was born from a debate about the source of creativity. The debate manifested itself into two groups of thought: rationalism versus romanticism. Each were described as follows:
- Rationalism: Creativity is generated by the conscious, deliberating, intelligent, rational mind.¹
- Romanticism: Creativity bubbles up from an irrational unconsciousness; rational deliberation interferes with the creative process.¹
Sound familiar? The implication is that the strained relationship between creativity and logic is not just a real phenomenon, it’s here to stay. Therefore, not only do we have to get accustomed to it, we’d better learn how to lead through it.
For those familiar with our Idea Climate Equation®, we talk about this tension frequently. If you look at the illustration of the equation, you might recognize this conflict through the thoughtful placement of each variable. Logic is in the denominator for two key reasons: 1) to acknowledge that it is necessary and must be present (i.e., can’t be zero), and 2) the more that logic dominates, the more it “cuts into” and inhibits creativity.
I find this simple equation helps leaders visualize the relationship between creativity and logic which often leads to two realizations: 1) how the predominance of logic in their organization has the ability to crush fresh thinking, and 2) that both mindsets, while critically important, don’t necessarily have to show up to the same meeting. At the end of the day, this is the key lesson about Innovation Agility. When it’s time to be creative, be creative. Don’t let logic creep in too early and bombard your creative thinking discussions with questions that no one will have an answer for. There will be a time for critical thinking.
Similarly, when due diligence identifies a problem, don’t give up too quickly. Your ideas are your intellectual property — don’t dismiss them as unattainable at the first sign of a roadblock. Given them a chance to sprout and take hold. Provide objectives or specific constraints and, most importantly, time so that your team can creatively problem solve and develop solutions that keep your concept alive. That’s another big benefit of Innovation Agility — ideas tend to stay alive longer. And when ideas hang around longer, you increase your odds of someone on the team having a big, breakthrough ‘aha’ moment.
The more you can cultivate Innovation Agility across your organization, the more likely you’ll be able to jump over the barriers that otherwise would have killed promising ideas. And when you build an army of Creative Leaders who are comfortable shifting back and forth between creative and logical thinking — you’ll create an innovation engine that’s got the horsepower of a V12.
¹ Definitions adapted from Explaining Creativity, R. Keith Sawyer (2006), Oxford University Press, p. 15
Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 203-788-2665 to learn how we can help you unlock the creative potential of your employees.