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The new year is when we strive to break old habits and live fuller, more productive lives. Companies can do the same. There are many steps that every organization can take to maximize its innovation potential. Here are our top suggestions.
Re-evaluate yourself
Your personal habits can have a profound impact on your ability to think creatively and work effectively. Sleep isn’t optional; when you don’t get enough, the effect can be similar to intoxication. A lack of sleep can also ramp up your consumption of junk food, which in turn can induce daytime sleepiness.
It’s a vicious cycle, leading to diminished creative capacity and declining productivity. In fact, in the book, “What to Eat When,” by Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer for Cleveland Clinic, the time that you eat is as important what you eat. He suggests, “since your internal clock is set by the sun, you should stop eating after dark.”
Movement is also essential. Walking can help you think, spending time in nature can realign your attitude and running literally makes you smarter. Exercise generally has far-reaching mental effects, including boosting neurotransmitter production and helping us cope with stress.
Almost as important as sleep, diet and exercise is a life outside the office. Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskowitz came to regret the years he spent working almost nonstop, because looking back he saw that he was less effective. “You can do great things and live your life well,” he wrote. “You can have it all, and science says you should.”
Re-evaluate your organization
What does you organization do? For whom? Why? These questions may seem silly until you drill down to the most fundamental level. Left unexamined, your notions about your identity, core competencies and capacity to change can hold you back, without your even realizing it.
All businesses strive for efficiency, but processes can become so ingrained that no one ever questions whether other methods might yield useful results. A good habit is still a habit, and by definition, nearly subconscious. Product innovation often requires business innovation, as well.
Re-evaluate your understanding of the creative process
“I learned to write by looking at paintings in the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. … In the first paragraphs of Farewell, I used the word ‘and’ consciously over and over the way Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach used a note in music when he was emitting counterpoint.” That’s Ernest Hemingway, talking to New Yorker magazine in 1950.
He instinctively grasped something crucial: inspiration can be found in unexpected places. The boundaries between disciplines are imaginary.
But trips to the museum and symphony are wasted if we can’t tune out distractions. According to neuroscientist Moshe Bar, to be creative, we need to think less, not more. “The capacity for original and creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations and other forms of mental load. Many psychologists assume that the mind, left to its own devices, is inclined to follow a well-worn path of familiar associations. But our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.”

Innovation is a way of life. Resolve to live yours to the fullest in 2021.

Bill Nottingham is Principal & VP of Growth at Nottingham Spirk