Igniting Innovation-II Nurturing the Innovative Consciousness

Our human consciousness is the source of innovation. Sustained innovation can come only form a culture that nurtures the innovative consciousness in people.

The Four Factors of Consciousness

In an integral perspective, every human activity has two dimension, inner state or consciousness and outer behaviour, action, results. To be effective and authentic, action or behaviour has to flow from within outwards, which means it has to be a spontaneous expression of an inner state of consciousness. In terms of innovation, the first major task is to build an innovative consciousness in the individual and the collectivity. There are four major factors which need management attention for building the innovative consciousness. They are:

  1. Attitudes
  2. The way of thinking or thinking-process
  3. Development of intuition and imagination
  4. Motivation


The first factor is the attitudes. The first attitude is to persistently look for the new, unknown, invisible, unexplored, dormant and unmanifest in everything around us and in whatever we do. The second attitude is a similar relentless quest for the better. Kito De Boer, a McKinsey consultant expresses this mind-set forcefully:

“To us at McKinsey, innovation is much more than product development or R&D. Innovation goes to the heart of sustaining corporate advantage through the process of continuous change and renewal. It has far more to do with continually challenging the status-quo and pushing for corporate renewal than it has to do with creativity and ingenuity.” (1)

In a more integral perspective the “better” includes the qualitative dimensions like the deeper, wider, more holistic, more perfect or more true, beautiful, good, harmonious. In the corporate world, the better is pursued mostly in terms of efficiency, productivity, quality or customer satisfaction. But why should the scope of innovation be confined to these bottom line goals? Why not there be something like “value-innovation” which leads to a better quality of life for the group or for the stakeholders in terms of higher values like truth, beauty and goodness. Why not ask employees to give suggestion on how to make the organisation more true, beautiful, loving and compassionate?

Innovative Thinking

The second factor is the thinking process. Employees of the organisation have to be taught how to think innovatively. First, they have to be made aware of the obstacles to innovative thinking like preconceived notions and the habitual, routine, conventional and traditional ways of thinking, by self-observation. Similarly they have to be trained on how to formulate the problem or goal, ask the right questions and proceed systematically to the solution or the goal. The other important factor is thinking as a team. In the emerging corporate environment where teamwork is the main mode of working, companies should not depend too heavily on the lone genius innovator. In most of the progressive and innovative companies, innovations happen more in a team than in solitary individuals. So to learn how to think in a team is an important competence for building an innovative consciousness. Let us now examine some thinking methodologies which can lead to innovation.

In general, to create an innovative culture people have to be trained to ask why and how repeatedly until the root cause of things are understood and resolved. Asking repeatedly, “why” leads to the root cause of a problem. For example in Toyota, there are manuals which describe how to ask “why” again and again and systematically until you reach the root cause. The other aspect of this innovative inquiry is not to take things for granted and question the purpose of things like for example asking following questions:

  • What is the purpose of an activity?
  • Whether the activity is serving the intended purpose?
  • If yes, whether it is serving its purpose with the highest efficiency and effectiveness?
  • If the activity is not serving its purpose, why? Can the situation be corrected? Or if the activity can be eliminated?
  • Can the activity be redesigned to serve the purpose better or more efficiently?

The other useful model is the one suggested by quality consultants Joseph and Susan Parks for problem-solving, which consists of four-steps:

  1. What is the problem? Before jumping prematurely to a solution try to understand the problem and define it in clearest possible term.
  2. What is the cause of the problem? Try to understand the potential and multiple causes of the problem which requires holistic thinking that views the problem as part of deeper or larger and more systemic causes.
  3. What are the potential solutions? There could be many possible solution to a problem and therefore try to figure-out the many potential solution to the problem.
  4. What is the best possible solution? Create a framework for assessing the pros and cons of the many potential solutions and arriving at the best and the most effective. (2)

There are intuitive methods of problem-solving which we will discuss briefly a little later. Another model of innovative thinking, more comprehensive and better suited to the emerging corporate environment, is the concept of “Design Thinking”. Tim Brown, CEO of a design firm, IDEO, describes design thinking as a human-centered and customer-oriented approach to innovation. The main facets of design thinking, as outlined by Tim Brown are as follows:

  • Place the customer at the center of the entire process.
  • Identify clearly the problem, context and the environment: What needs to be done? What are the constraints and opportunities? What has changed or what soon may change?
  • Observe the world around: What people think, feel and do? What are their habits? What they need and want?
  • From the beginning build and work with an interdisciplinary team made of designers, engineers, marketers, psychologists, behavioural scientists.
  • Invite and be open to diverse or even contradictory viewpoints, ideas, insights from many disciplines.
  • Apply integrative thinking to organise and synthesis ideas.
  • Use imaged thinking like symbols, stories and concrete objects to make the ideas living and tangible.
  • Build prototypes and test it with the users.
  • Communicate the ideas internally to all the stakeholders and receive their feedback.
  • Create a framework for implementation.
  • Help marketing people to design the advertising and communication strategy. (3)

Development of Intuition and Imagination

For creating an innovative and creative consciousness, we cannot rely entirely on reason and rational debate, discussion or brain-storming. Logical reasoning is not inherently innovative and creative. In our human consciousness, the truly creative faculties are intuition and imagination. In an innovative consciousness, intuition and imagination will be the leading faculties with logic and reason playing a subordinate and helpful role. So, if a company wants to create a culture which can generates sustained innovation, it must make a conscious and planned effort to develop intuition and imagination in its work-force.

Intuition is the faculty which can discern the deeper, invisible and unseen realities, forces or patterns behind the visible outer appearances. Imagination is the power which can help us to project our mind into the unknown and the unmanifest, and from the present facts into the future possibilities.

There are deeper intuitive layers of consciousness within us behind our surface mentality. According to integral psychology our human consciousness is made of three layers: surface, subliminal and spiritual. The surface self is the layer formed around our body. This surface being is very limited in its capacity for knowledge, intuition or imagination. The subliminal is the deeper and larger self within us which is more intuitive, with a much greater capacity for knowledge, feeling and action than the surface mind. The spiritual is the very source of intuition and other higher faculties beyond our rational mind. In the average human being, who lives in his surface self, these deeper and higher layers of consciousness are mostly unconscious and unmanifest. In the above average and talented person, they are a little more manifest and active, and in the genius, still more. These intuitive layers of consciousness can be made more and more conscious and active even in the average person by pursuing a systematic discipline. The most direct method, based on the principles of Indian yoga, is to still the surface mind and turn the consciousness inward, in a concentrated and receptive silence.

For example, an intuitive alternative to the four step problem-solving method described earlier will retain the first step. But after formulating clearly the problem, the intuitive approach will proceed directly to silence the mind with an aspiration for truth and goodness, and allow the solution to emerge from the deeper layers of consciousness. As The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram explains the rationale of the method:

“To learn to be quiet and silent… when you have a problem to solve, instead of turning over in your head all the possibilities, all the consequences, all the possible things one should or should not be doing, if you remain quiet with an aspiration for goodwill, if possible a need for goodwill, then solution comes quickly. As you are silent you are able to hear it.” (4)

However this intuitive approach through mental silence requires a certain minimum level of mental development. We must keep in mind that a lazy, underdeveloped mind full of inertia cannot remain silent, and if it tries to do so, it will slip into a black hole in the subconscious, where there is neither the light of reason nor intuition. So a culture of deep and creative thinking provides a good mental foundation for the development of intuition in the individual or the group.

Here comes the importance of another method for developing intuition, which is to stretch the rational and logical mind to its utmost limits. For example modern systems theory and ecological thinking which views each thing as part of a larger whole and tries to perceive the interconnected unity of all thing, can be a very good mental discipline for preparing the rational mind to receive intuition.

Similarly there are many methodologies for developing imagination like visualization, guided imagery, symbolic metaphors, story-telling, dreams and fantasies of hope and idealism, futuristic scenario building, asking, “what if” or “why not” questions and many others. For example, the well-known management Guru C.K Prahalad asks: why not a dry detergent which can wash without water?

Similarly, Mike Lazaris, the founder of Research in Action asked, “what executive life would be like if you could receive your e-mail in a hand-held device,” which gave birth to the blackberry.(5) However, as we have indicated earlier, for the higher evolution of business, “why not” question should not be confined to process or product improvement but also for improving the quality of the corporate life in the ethical, aesthetic and spiritual realms.

Motivation for Innovation

How to motivate people to innovate? Monetary and non-monetary rewards like cash incentives, sharing the gains, recognition and appreciation, career progress have to be an integral part of the motivation package. However, creating a culture which leads to an intrinsic joy in innovation is a deeper source of motivation. A still higher level of motivation happens when the innovation serves a moral or social cause.

For example at Herman Miller, CEO Brain Walker found that a joint effort with a creative partner to build a textile that could gather and store solar power for low-income communities in the developing world, has a positive and energizing motivational impact on the employees.(6)

Similarly, as CEO of Procter and Gamble (P&G), points out, “People will innovate for financial gain or for competitive advantage but this can be self-limiting. There needs to be an emotional component as well as a source of inspiration that motivates people.” And according to Bruce Brown, Chief Technology Officer of P&G, in his company, inspiration lies in “a sense of purpose driven from the top down-the message that each innovation improves people’s lives.” (7) Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project states, “When leaders can define a compelling mission that transcends individual’s self-interest, it is source of fuel not just for higher performance but also for thinking more creatively.” (8)

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc.

His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

M.S. Srinivasan

Courtesy: VILAKSHAN: XIMB Journal of Management

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