Why Intuition is So Important for Innovation
Fear accompanies business model transformation and product innovation because these activities introduce ambiguity into your normal business operations. But to productize successfully, organizations must learn to face fears associated with change. In this four-part series, we outline our LEAP method for overcoming the fear that gets in the way of successful productization. LEAP stands for:
- Listening to your intuition
- Expecting less than perfect
- Asking for help
- Practicing gratitude.
Informed by the neuroscience of mindfulness, the LEAP method has helped clients and our team find the courage they seek to innovate and transform.
Productization, business model transformation, and digital innovation all require overcoming fear. In my practice and personal experience, fear is a fundamental limitation that prevents companies from successfully productizing and innovating. The change required for business model transformation is hard because it may require creating new positions, bringing in new skills, and changing deep-seated behaviors. Recent research at the intersection of neuroscience and business transformation supports what I have seen time and again in my practice: it is precisely the uncertainty associated with these types of changes that provokes fear among business leaders and their organizations.
But fear does not have to be a nagging hurdle to organizational change. As Jim Detert suggests in his book Choosing Courage, “the capacity for courage…comes from repeatedly practicing specific skills.” In my experience, the most fearless innovators practice listening: to their customers and employees, and just as importantly, to themselves.
Often referred to as “gut instinct” or “founder’s intuition”, these leaders’ inner wisdom encourages them to take the unknown path, be original within their industry, and identify and take productive risks. Susan Peppercorn, writing in Harvard Business Review, has described the value of intuition as valuable data that can help innovators make good decisions, faster. She states:
Intuition is a potent source of information, and research has demonstrated that among experts, tacit knowledge and gut instinct lead to rapid and effective decision making. Such instincts are often associated with feelings rather than specific thoughts. Feelings of fear driven by concerns over the idea, for example, can offer important signals that work is needed. When treated as such a signal and acted on, rather than being repressed or ignored, these emotional flags can help entrepreneurs eliminate weaknesses and flaws in their venture idea.
Effective change leaders are not simply gifted at hearing and following intuition. They make listening to their intuition a consistent mindfulness practice that supports their ability to rethink the status quo and embrace change. The evidence for doing so is powerful: a 2016 study by researchers at the Graziado School of Business and Management at Pepperdine found that mindfulness at all levels of an organization is a critical component of change readiness. Moreover, mindfulness practices may positively impact the bottom line, by improving innovation.
But it’s not always easy to hear our inner wisdom, much less trust it. It takes practice.
In this article, I make a case for why your organization should embrace mindfulness as it begins to productize. Grounded in the neuroscience of fear and mindfulness, this post describes:
- What neuroscience tells us about how practicing mindfulness quells fear
- Why manifestation is a powerful, science-backed mindfulness practice for tuning into your intuition
How Mindfulness Quells Fear
Fear is a fundamental, and useful, human emotion that helps keep us safe. But fear is also a complicated neurological activation of reinforcing memories and emotions that can encourage us to amplify risk disproportionately to a perceived threat. Past negative experiences encode fear of change in powerful ways in our brains: in one of the earliest articles to emerge from the field of behavioral economics, Daniel Khanneman and Amos Tversky noted that loss experiences impact our brain twice as much as experiences characterized by reward–which means that we will work harder to avoid a loss than to achieve a potential gain.
This is one reason why the innovation and business model transformation that goes along with productization can be so difficult: innovation is about creating and executing ideas that effect change, both for customers and for businesses, as Matt Tenney and Tim Gard assert in their book The Mindfulness Edge. “An innovation is something that actually disrupts the status quo” Tenney and Gard state, “It is an idea that has been turned into a reality that is somehow disrupting other current realities.” Innovation requires that we embrace uncertainty, quell fear, and bring others along with us in that effort.
Science suggests that mindfulness practices can help us in this work by turning down the volume on our fears. A 2019 study authored by Harvard research team found that mindfulness activities–and especially those that focus attention through meditative practices–can break our brain’s cycle of fear, by recognizing that fear reactions can be disproportionate to the actual risk. The researchers found that consistent mindfulness meditation heightened participants’ fear extinction–or the ability to recall that a stimulus is no longer associated with a threat. When fear extinction practices are maximized, it may be easier to break the cycle of anxiety encoded within our brains.
The researchers found that mindfulness training may provide a variety of positive hippocampal-dependent changes, including improved ability to control attention, regulate emotions, respond resiliently to stress, and limit anxiety, as well as enhancing fear extinction. ALL of these cognitive traits, as Tenney and Gard have argued, are fundamental to successful innovators.
Notably, researchers studying mindfulness practices among change management leaders noted that meditation, rather than simply taking breaks, exercise, or other stress reduction activities, led to greater ability to solve complex problems through creative thinking. So while taking screen breaks, limiting multitasking, and getting some exercise are undoubtedly beneficial for you and your work, there is a very compelling case for building meditative practices into your day. In short: meditation helps build the cognitive habits that innovators need.
My own experience resonates with this research. I’ve had a regular yoga practice for ten years and a regular meditation practice for two years. Both have helped me listen to my inner wisdom by quieting my fear of change. I firmly believe that without my practice of yoga and meditation, I never would have launched Vecteris because my fears would have been louder than my intuition telling me to follow this path.
Manifestation : A Science-Backed Practice for Listening to Intuition
In her book, The Source, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Tara Swart suggests that fear can be a fundamental component of our everyday cognitive functioning, and it can keep us from attending to important information and focusing on new opportunities by affirming our biases. While researchers haven’t yet confirmed a link between the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN) and fear–although they are working on it--Swart’s empirical observations resonate with our experience: when we focus on what scares us, it can be difficult to see the abundant opportunity for innovation that exists within our expertise and organizational structure.
Manifesting is not only about setting clear intentions but focusing on those intentions, visualizing their outcome, and directing action towards achieving them. Swart puts it this way: “manifesting is merely another way of saying we ‘make something happen.’ It relates to the action rather than to mere intention.”
Mindfulness practices, like journaling, meditation, visualizing, and practicing gratitude, are key to aligning desires and intentions, and then, taking action to enact them. The science behind these practices is significant, and much of it revolves around how mindfulness can push pause on the brain’s DMN–and especially its processes of selective attention–that keep new ideas, information, and patterns from rising to the forefront of our thought. Visualization is particularly effective, because it activates the areas of the brain needed to affect the hypothetical outcome. To put it differently, imagining yourself hitting your organization’s big, audacious goals primes your brain and body to successfully accomplish those goals when opportunity knocks.
The theory suggests that when we begin a mindfulness practice, we are better able to identify our own desires and intentions—our intuition--as well as the information we need to develop those intentions into actions. Mindfulness aids our ability to achieve outcomes by providing clarity into what we really want in our lives. And it helps us see the tools already in our possession that can be used to make that vision a reality.
When this happens, it can feel like magic. But it’s not magic–it is simply using your brain’s innate ability to think beyond your status quo.
The Vecteris team recently experienced the seeming-serendipity of manifestation while defining the job description for our most recent hire. After designing our new Spark program, our leadership team agreed that we needed to hire a VP of Product to manage and scale the program. We designed the job description with a particular expert in mind, who ultimately couldn’t accept the position. I kept my mind focused on our vision to hire the right VP of Product; I continued to meditate, visualize, and be mindful that I would find the perfect fit. Then I was reconnected to a professional in my network who hadn’t applied for the position but was making a career transition and very interested in Vecteris’ mission and work. Once we met, I recognized the potential she could bring to this role. Because I had remained focused on my intention for the position, it became obvious that she was the person we had in mind.
What we learned is that manifesting is one way of listening to your intuition–and this form of listening often leads to noticing solutions hidden in plain sight.
Innovation requires letting go of fear and listening to intuition, across all levels of your organization. Science suggests that making mindfulness a consistent part of your company culture may just be one of the most important behavioral practices for product innovation: embracing mindfulness practices should be seen as an integral innovation supporting behavior.
To help companies successfully transform their culture into one that prioritizes innovation supporting mindsets and behaviors, we developed Spark – a program designed to help you develop the skills to quickly and successfully launch new products. Guided by our team of experts, you’ll design a product concept that’s ready to be tested with beta customers – applying the customer-centric, tech-enabled innovation skills you’re learning. If you’re interested in learning more, let’s grab a virtual coffee!