Businesses count on Aha moments when seeking to innovate. Aha moments, or brand new insights occur when the brain has aggregated shards of related information into a wholly novel, highly applicable construct – something akin to the ‘whole’ that is greater than the sum of its parts. A lot’s been written and much brain research done with the aim of understanding the genesis of transformative insights. But when seeking to understand how Aha moments happen or don’t, a product development company may find it nearly impossible to replicate their valuable eureka effects on demand. Writing about the frustrations of such an effort, Harvard Business Review blogger Scott Anthony writes:
One of the most common complaints senior executives have about disruptive innovation is its seemingly snail-like pace. How is it, they wonder, that it takes us forever to pursue ideas that promise to create new markets when the world seems to be innovating at a dizzying pace?
We all feel the pain. The Aha moment cannot be mass produced. Executives can heed expert advice and nurture the innovation process by setting up collaborative work spaces, forming smaller teams, encouraging those teams to get out of their comfort zones or choosing more experienced innovation team leaders. But while all these approaches can likely help the overall process, not any one or combination of them will actually make Aha! moments happen. The best thing an innovation team can do to bring them about is to get out of their way.
Much like an earlier blog post here on dealing with brain cramps which concludes that trying too hard to think of something is counter-productive, the most effective way to encourage the eureka effect is simply to let it happen.
Here are some approaches to encouraging Aha moments:
1.) SPACE OUT
The practice of mindfulness (focused, intentional and non-judgmental attention to the present moment) in the workplace is of great value when gathering information relevant to a larger task. But according to a recent NY Times article mindfulness can impinge on the Aha Moment. From the article:
But one of the most surprising findings of recent mindfulness studies is that it could have unwanted side effects. Raising roadblocks to the mind’s peregrinations could, after all, prevent the very sort of mental vacations that lead to epiphanies. In 2012, Jonathan Schooler, who runs a lab investigating mindfulness and creativity at the University of California, Santa Barbara, published a study titled “Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation.” In it, he found that having participants spend a brief period of time on an undemanding task that maximizes mind wandering improved their subsequent performance on a test of creativity. In a follow-up study, he reported that physicists and writers alike came up with their most insightful ideas while spacing out. “A third of the creative ideas they had during a two-week period came when their minds were wandering,” Schooler said. “And those ideas were more likely to be characterized as ‘aha’ insights that overcame an impasse.”
Effective innovators gather research mindfully. But intentionally allowing for “mindless” times to let thoughts wander and go where there may appear to be an important component of innovative insight.
2.) Fall Into Rabbit Holes
This is similar to spacing out, but with the addition of an internet connection. Falling down rabbit holes is another “mindless” learning experience driven by diffuse awareness of and interest in a subject matter. Like spacing out, it is not constrained or driven by any required task. Rabbit hole searching is a total immersion experience that allows impulse to explore at will. It can enable insightful learning, but stand forewarned: it can be a huge time drain!
3.) Get Ready for Your Aha! Moment
A distinct characteristic of dawning innovative insights is that you NEVER know when they will occur. Keep some way of documenting these moments with you at all times – even while sleeping or on vacation. Write down even the smallest insights immediately when they occur. At the time you’ll tell yourself that this isn’t important because of course you’ll remember it later… But you might not.
4.) There are No Stupid Questions
Designing products for clients which employ emerging technologies continually presents our product design and engineering teams with problems that no one has ever had to solve before. So it is no surprise that the culture at IPS fosters innovation. Productizing emerging technologies successfully relies on exhaustive exploration which cannot be fully realized in an organization that judges people negatively for free expression of ideas, no matter how ‘out there’ they may be. By cultivating an atmosphere that is 100%, uninhibited open season for ideation, truly innovative companies grow Aha moments. And they transform the product landscape in the process.