Americans are in a tough place, with many losing jobs, homes, and the ability to feed their families. So, too, is the American economy. Competition is increasing within a worldwide recession. As human beings are equally talented throughout the globe and knowledge industries are the future, to grow the economy will require innovation on every level. Many jobs will never return; people have no choice but to reinvent what they do. Our bodies are good at that, rebuilding much of themselves within days; now we have to get our minds and organizations to follow.
Easier said than done. Yet there is a huge literature on creativity for remaking corporations and people. How the body daily regenerates can give also provide us some important principles:
1. Flow. Csikszentmihalyi’s concept involves peak performance in all spheres. In flow, people are engrossed; forget their self-consciousness; don’t notice the time; have challenges to meet, and through frequent feedback, meet them. A classic flow experience is playing a game, which leads to another characteristic of creativity –
2. Play. The spirit of wonder and imagination should not left just to school kids. Many of the more successful US corporations try to incorporate the spirit of play into their skunkworks and development programs.
3. Teams – what are corporations except a kind of a team? Through human evolution, people work best when they work well together. Look at human sports – the manipulation of small objects in three dimensional space through teamwork copies in many ways how humans hunted for millions of years.
4. Cognitive reframing – when a shoe manufacturer goes to a country where people go barefoot, is the response “this place is horrible, nobody wears shoes” or “this is fantastic, everyone in this place needs a pair of shoes?” Teams, flow, and play are aids in beginning the process of cognitive reframing, seeing the familiar in a different light. For some, recognizing how the body rebuilds itself quickly and powerfully is one such recognition.
5. Adjacencies – the brain works with specialized clusters of cells that do a few things with great expertise, and are peripherally involved in many other functions. After strokes or major illness, as shown by researchers like the great neuropsychologist Alexander Luria, these peripheral areas take over from regions that have been knocked out.
The brain adapts by taking these adjacent areas and building them up to provide new functions, like learning a technical skill or instrument. Many individuals and companies find that old skills can be further developed when entering different arenas or creating new products. Then the “new” field is not completely new, with competencies already built in.
6. Bricolage. This term of the French anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss explains how cultures make themselves, taking a piece of this idea and a piece of that, gradually building up structures that make a civilization. The brain does this regularly in rest, particularly in the form of passive rest we call sleep, picking, gisting, summarizing, and creating insightful knowledge out of old memories and the new memories of the past day. Just as Picasso could take a tin can and a bicycle wheel to create a sculpture, pieces that seem thoroughly unconnected can be mixed together in ways that astonish. How the Apollo 13 ground crew repositioned the components of the spacecraft to get everyone home is another famous example of bricolage.
The times are interesting and difficult, but necessity is a mother of invention, and renewal is one thing the body does brilliantly well. Just knowing what it does every minute of each day, the miracle of rebuilding and regeneration, can give us an idea of what we can do ourselves.
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