A Neuroscience Perspective on Enhancing Innovation

March 23, 2018 Written by: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner

What could be the practical value (to the world of business) of an overview of the neuroscience of creativity/innovation?  If nothing else – I hop to illustrate what a holistic phenomenon this is and encourages initiatives that could enhance cognition, creativity and innovation.

As always my interest is to break off a few bite size pieces and serve them in a usable (dare I say digestible) format.

Lest there be any doubt on how quickly this becomes very complicated. I offer by way of example an edited description by the author of NeuroWisdom.

  • Your parietal lobes might generate fanciful images of people and places
  • Your visual cortex can construct other worldly images
  • Different areas of your frontal and temporal lobes can work together to produce improvisational masterpieces
  • But it’s the conceptual creativity of abstract thinking that is truly remarkable, giving your frontal lobes the power to turn new ideas into original strategies.

As though this weren’t enough “Your Brain and Business” published in March of 2011 lists several other parts of the brain involved:

  • The frontal cortex (OFC) (required to be minimally disinhibited for a person to be innovative)
  • The lingual gyrus
  • The right posterior cingulate gyrus
  • The angular gyrus
  • The corpus callosum
  • Left parietal cortex

How can the average business person wrap their mind (sorry I couldn’t resist) around such a convoluted interplay of what is arguably the most complicated system in the world – the mind.

As always, there are helpful hints in the ‘healthy/wealthy/wise’ categories of the popular press.

A couple with sound/practical advice from the neuroscience perspective include Gary Klein’s “Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights” and Mark Robert Waldman and Chris Manning’s “NeuroWisdom: The New Brain Science of Money, Happiness, and Success”.

In the former Klein who is a guru in the area of decision making offers up some strategies for insight which is part of the cascade that can become innovation.

My thumbnail summary illustrates the ideas around triggering insights:

  • Connections
    • Open to experience
    • Speculate about unfamiliar possibilities
  • Coincidences/ Curiosities
    • Apparent relationships
    • Remake skeptical but sympathetic
  • Contradictions
    • Open to surprises
    • Take them seriously
  • Creative desperation
    • Critically examine assumptions
    • Detect any tripping us

I highly recommend this book if you want to create a context conducive to insights for you and others.

NeuroWisdom on the other hand offers another form of “enhancement” for innovation and its precedents. This book offers a reader friendly, multifaceted description of mindfulness and how it helps.

As Waldman and Manning describe it:

  • “Instead of focusing your attention on just one or two things (called convergent thinking), you allow your mind to become aware of as many different thoughts, feelings, and sensations as possible. You neither select, judge, nor focus on anything in particular. This is our formal definition of mindfulness. Psychologists and neuroscientists call it open monitoring, or divergent thinking, a unique state of mind that has been shown to generate new creative ideas.”
  • “Consciousness keeps you focused on the present moment, but awareness gives you the ability to tap into your imagination and creativity, processes that involve some of the newest evolutionary structures in your brain.”
  • “Creativity is a form of spontaneous cognition, or mind wandering, and it’s the default state that your brain goes into when you are mentally and physically passive.”

In fact his entire article is riddled with direct and indirect (some subtle, some not so subtle) illustrations of the impact of mindfulness.

Also, see some earlier articles I have written:

Diving still deeper on this latter topic, there is more and more information available in the scientific literature on mindfulness and creativity/innovation. I provide the following in case you are inclined (as I am) to want to go to the source.

Sidebar: For obvious reasons most studies were focused on creativity (vs. innovation) given the standardized testing available.  However, I think it is safe to assume that some element of creative thinking (necessarily) precedes any innovation.

“While creativity is no guarantee of innovation – it seems likely that there would be no innovation without creativity.”

I suggest we take an empirical approach and not worry about how it works but rely on the fact that there is ample evidence to suggest it does.

With this in mind I found these most useful:

In conclusion, I reiterate it is clearly not practical for a businessperson (particularly in real time) to comprehend the various processes going on in the body and brain.  With that in mind I have tried to include here a couple procedures/protocols that could simply enhance the likelihood of success.

Bibliography

  1. Viviana Capurso, Franco Fabbro and Cristiano Crescentini – Mindful creativity: the influence of mindfulness meditation on creative thinking
  2. Lorenza S. Colzato, Ayca Ozturk, and Bernhard HommelMeditate to Create: The Impact of Focused-Attention and Open-Monitoring Training on Convergent and Divergent Thinking
  3. Jonathan Greenberg, Keren Reiner, and Nachshon Meiran – “Mind the Trap”: Mindfulness Practice Reduces Cognitive Rigidity
  4. John Kounios, Mark Beeman – The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain
  5. Gary Klein – Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights
  6. Ostafin BD, and Kassman KT – Stepping out of history: mindfulness improves insight problem solving.
  7. Srinivasan S. Pillay M.D. – Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders
  8. Mark Robert Waldman and Chris Manning PhD – NeuroWisdom: The New Brain Science of Money, Happiness, and Success
  9. Fadel Zeidan, Susan K. Johnson, Bruce J. Diamond, Zhanna David, and Paula Goolkasian – Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training

Relevant Business Brain Model articles

  1. How Embodied Is Your Cognition?
  2. Recipe for Innovation Stew
  3. Daniel Kahneman Meets Dalai Lama
  4. TPN vs. DMN – Neural Mechanisms and Mindfulness
  5. What Can Paying Attention To Your Breath Do For You?
  6. TPN vs. DMN – Brain Structure and Mindfulness 

About the Author: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist with more than 50 years of business success. He is not a scientist or an academic but he does have a diversified exposure to neuroscience, psychology and related cognitive sciences. Generally speaking, the ideas he expresses here are business-angled expansions of other people’s ideas, so when possible, he will link to the original reference.