Microburst - The Origin of Innovation?

Have you ever had a thought or an idea and wondered where it came from? What part of the brain or what process did you go through to come up with that idea? Are ideas spontaneous, unique events, formulated through our experiences and interactions? When you think of a great idea or innovation, what comes to mind? The automobile, the lightbulb, the iPhone?

They say that ideas are the building blocks to product innovation, yet most of us still find it hard to understand how an idea is generated or how to put structure around the ideation process so that it can be more sustainable and repeatable over time.

The creation of an idea, commonly referred to as ideation can comprise all stages of a thought cycle, from innovation to development to implementation. They can be revolutionary, disruptive, and sometimes destructive, all at the same time.

But defining the different types of innovations doesn’t necessarily explain how these types of innovations or ideas occur. What occurs before the innovation exits? What’s the catalyst which leads to the creative “spark” that ignites and blossoms into an idea? Is there perhaps another disruptive type of event that acts as a catalyst to form the idea?

In “Surfing the Edge of Chaos,” an article by Richard T. Pascale’s in the book Strategic Thinking for the Next Economy, Pascale writes about how human beings are like "complex adaptive systems." He notes that, “What makes a system complex and adaptive is the ability to anticipate and be proactive.” Said another way, human beings are complex and adaptive, and it's our ability to anticipate and be proactive that allows us to survive. Pascale also wrote, “Stable equilibrium equals death. For any system to survive, it must cultivate variety into its inner workings. If it fails to do so, it will fail to adapt to change successfully when it comes externally. While equilibrium endangers living systems, it often wears the disguise of an attribute. Species (people) are innately drawn toward stability and equilibrium – and the further they drift toward this destination, the less likely they're to adapt successfully when change is necessary.”

If we further apply the words of Pascale to product innovation, I believe he may be telling us that for true ideation to occur, we have to somehow stop or disrupt the monotony of the everyday and introduce small, incremental changes that keep us challenged, force us to adapt, and allow us to continue to grow. This adaptability is a survival trait that’s applicable to individuals, as well as, products and organizations.

The challenge is trying to figure out just how to introduce change and structure it in such a way that the incremental change is productive and not destructive to the system.

For many, any type of change can be viewed as disruptive and stressful. The word stress itself has been demonized for some time now, being the root cause of most bad things that happen to us. But what if we could figure out a way to turn this stress into something more positive, that could feed the innovative process, and get back that creative spark.

Athletes have understood for some time now the positive side of stress and the powerful relationship between stress and recovery. Consider the following analogy: In order for a muscle to grow, it must first be stressed through some form of exercise or resistance training. This stress serves as the stimulus for growth; acting as the disruptive force of change. However, for growth to occur, the muscle must be given time to recover. With no recovery, there is no growth. Too much stress results in fatigue. Too little stress results in no growth.

When it comes to product innovation, could there be such a thing as good stress and bad stress? Bad stress being something that stifles innovation and good stress being something that fosters it? What if we could capture this daily corporate, environmental stress (bad stress) and turn it into small packets of energy (good stress) that could be re-invested into the creative, innovative process?

Nikolovski and Groppel in the white paper, The Power of an Energy Microburst, recently coined the turn microburst, describing it as small energy investments, short in duration, but intentional activity that results in disproportionate, higher returns. The concept represents a short period of time that can change an energy level and energy state, with the potential to improve one’s performance and engagement over the course of a day.

This concept shouldn’t come as a surprise. There has been scientific evidence for some time now regarding the benefits of the microbursts. Verburgh and colleagues have reported that short bouts of physical activity lead to a boost in self control and suggest that the resulting increased blood and oxygen flow to the pre-frontal cortex may explain these effects. The science behind the microbursts seems to indicate that if we induce or create stress in a creative, structured, and deliberate way, then we should be able to see growth far greater than if we were to just do nothing or do the same thing over and over again.

But as Pascale has eluded to in his description of equilibrium, many times we think that as long as we are doing something, that it’s better than doing nothing; kind of like running on a treadmill over and over to get exercise. In the beginning of your exercise training, running on the treadmill might produce significant results. However, if running on the treadmill is all that you do, science would show that your gains and progress would eventually level off. So, is the microburst the catalyst behind the innovative idea?

Going back to our scientists, Nikolovski and Groppel, they would tell us that time is the element that creates opportunity. But that it’s the energy that we put into time that brings about action and impact. Ultimately, energy is what gives time its real worth - energy generated by the microburst.

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