Great innovation often comes with magical stories about a brilliant light bulb going off and the innovator then running around town like a mad man. We call it the “aha” moment. A moment when the idea, solution or opportunity we’ve been waiting for hits us like a ton of bricks – or an apple on your head if you are Newton discovering the theory of gravity.
Aha moments are sought after by most of us. We want to have a magical moment where an awesome idea surprisingly pops into our head out of nowhere.
But, here’s the thing about aha moments. They aren’t magical and they aren’t surprising. They don’t spring out of nowhere and they don’t come out of thin air. Actually aha moments are just the tip of the iceberg. Your habits and behaviors are what are under the water holding that tip up. Underneath an aha and the surface of the water are days, months, years of creative habits.
If you want more aha moments, don’t focus on the Aha, focus on your habits and behaviors. I’ve scoured the globe (online of course), traveled through time (researched dead people) and talked (by Skype) to dozens of innovators about their habits. Here are the 7 habits they all seem to have in common.
7 Habits of Highly Innovative People
1. Dream: purposeful, vivid daydreaming, visualizing, creating stories for past, present and future
Daydreaming allows us to explore new thoughts and ideas without the handcuffs of reality. The landscape of our brains is endless and daydreaming lets us “fill in the blanks” to create new stories, change the past (If I had), look into a crystal ball (what if I) and wonder about possibilities that we can’t comprehend in reality. When we daydream we connect dots from different parts of our memories and thoughts. Dreaming is the start of creating something new in reality.
2. Lose: get lost mentally and physically, lose track of thoughts, and go out of comfort zone for new experiences
When we get lost mentally and let our thoughts go and just wander off our brains actually kick into high gear. Studies have shown that losing our thoughts can lead us to wonderful new places. fMRIs show that the problem solving and executive decision making parts of our brain become highly active even though we aren’t aware of it. Physically, feeling lost by trying new experiences helps us ignite new synapses in our brains. We are efficient creatures, which means for the day-to-day our brains create short cuts. We need to break free from our experience-dependent thinking and the best way to do that is to try something new, to get lost and get some new synapses firing.
3. Create: write, draw, doodle, journal, sculpt – capture thoughts/ideas/feelings/moments
Journaling, doodling and drawing help us express ourselves. It’s a nonjudgmental way to explore our thoughts and ideas. Not only does writing and drawing increase creativity but it also gives us a medium to express those inner ideas and thoughts. Whether it’s a journal, a blog or a lot of napkins it’s important to capture and explore. Looking back at past drawings and writings can be a tremendous source of inspiration as well.
4. Trust: build and use your intuition, trust the gut feeling
Research has shown that intuition is just a quick way of making decisions or reacting to our surroundings. In fact, it is said that our intuitive thinking is able to tap into memories and experiences beyond the ones we are conscious of, pull all that information together and then giving us that “gut” feeling. Intuition works at this sub-conscious level and is primitive decision-making ability for humans. Intuitive thinking is a more circuitous thought process – going from A to Z to 3 to B and back to A – so we can’t always explain it, even when we know it to be true. It does not need the logical theory to perform and is therefore a great source of creative energy.
5. Move: movement, exercise, positive endorphins, positive feelings and moods
Exercise does a lot for the mind and body. When we exercise we “clear the head” so to speak. When the body moves more blood flows, providing more nutrient, oxygen rich blood to the brain. We also release feel good endorphins that tell our mind and body that we can do anything, including be more innovative. One study showed that the group that engaged in some type of physical activity reported higher feelings of creativity than the group that did not.
6. Expand: expand your knowledge, go wide versus deep, and explore new information
Often, great innovative thinking comes from pulling together seemingly disparate pieces of information and molding that into something new. Having a cross-section of knowledge can be a powerful source for innovative thinking. According to the book, The Medici Effect, it is at this intersection of knowledge that we are able to see new commonalities, differences and ultimately create true innovative thinking. The act of seeking out and gathering new knowledge is an act of the imagination in itself.
7. Play: be childish, humor, fun, unadulterated laughter
Getting lost in play can lead to magical things. Studies have shown that kids that engage in true play actually do better in school, are better off socially and show higher levels of happiness than those that don’t. In fact, when studying male sociopaths, Dr. Stuart Brown found that their one commonality was the absence of play. Play is also a great place to discover, test new ideas, and try out thoughts without consequence. It’s just play after all. In play you can leave reality behind and create your own stories, rules and landscapes. It’s interactive, fun and often leads to a loss of sense of time and self. In losing both we open up our imaginative sides for the world. Play increases our sense of curiosity and discovery, key ingredients for innovation
Ask yourself, are you dreaming, losing, creating, trusting, moving, expanding and playing every day?