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Thursday, Jun, 18, 2015

Accessing the Source for Innovation

Anxiety is the state of twentieth-century man. Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead

Take a rest. Thats right, put up your feet. Take a wide open view, absorbing the whole rather than focusing on anything in particular. Now turn inward, notice your breath, your heartbeat, feel your toes inside your shoes. Think of a time when you felt totally relaxed. Transport yourself mentally to that time and place. Feel the sun on your face, the water lapping at your feet, the smells in the air. In that mind, ask yourself what would be the most productive, innovative adaptation that you could begin today to make your organization more successful. That mind, the mind of relaxation and reflection is the mind that can access the source of innovation.

Yet in my executive coaching practice, the most common challenge for successful executives is finding the time to relax and reflect. Usually they struggle with not getting enough sleep, stressing about too many things screaming for attention and wishing they could get home to see their sons little league game or go for a jog in the park. It is difficult finding balance keeping afloat in the modern executive job. Time for reflection just seems like too much of a luxury, although many yearn for it. I think one of the drivers for the popularity of executive coaching is that it is a sanctioned time to slow down. Yet, this time out of time accelerates breakthrough insights and actions.

Resilient, innovative companies are lead by resilient, innovative leaders. They set the tone, create a culture where ideas are born. In turbulent times it is this capacity to see opportunities, adapt and invent that turns things onto a profitable path. Google sanctions that 20% of an employees time can be spent on autonomous idea generation- from this came G-Mail as well as a host of other innovations. 3Ms technical staff could spend up to 15 percent of their time on projects of their choosing- one innovation that resulted was the sticky note.

While stress and fear can seem like a motivator to try new things, after a certain threshold of chronic anxiety it is much harder to access creativity and innovation. It is easy to feel anxious when real problems loom, the reality of failed companies, eroding consumer confidence, unemployment and the free fall of personal investments. When stressed we often seek to increase control, manipulate through fear (you will lose your job if), constrict, and operate from a mentality of scarcity. New ideas and innovations are not nourished from this ground.

How can we shift from anxiety to a more productive mind? The first step is to notice when anxiety is escalating. Many of us are not tuned into the signs of anxiety in the body- difficulty in sleeping, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, migraines, impaired memory and irritability. Our brain automatically narrows our focus when anxiety creeps up. Fehmi and Robbins, in their book The Open Focus Brain note that most of us live in a chronic state of narrow focus as an unconscious strategy to distance ourselves from unpleasant feelings of fear. The result is a numbed state that disconnects us from being in the here and now. As an exercise to awaken to a more relaxed state, they found that by focusing your attention on the space between your eyes (not looking cross eyed but just imagining the space between your eyes) automatically recalibrated the brain to a relaxed state. Instantly.

Accessing a relaxed state of mind also comes from exercising, yoga, spending time on vacation, enjoying time with friends and doing any activity that feels energizing . Suddenly insights emerge about opportunities and new ways of doing things while putting into the third hole playing golf.

Accessing the ideas for innovation is the first step. Taking those ideas and translating them into a vision and committed actions is the next step. Leaders who can do this understand the source for inspiring organization action that can lead to transformational results and organizational resiliency.

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