I’ve noticed, as I go around talking to organisations about diagnosing, understanding and harnessing their creativity to improve their business practices, that there is one crucial ingredient of creativity that most people don’t know about. This makes me think that idea Incubation might be the secret ingredient of innovation and problem solving.
Some people, like Steve Jobs, know the secret automatically, but you can learn to use it too.
What is Incubation, and how does it work?
Incubation is what we do when we stop thinking intensely and deliberately about something, and allow our brains and thoughts to flow. Incubation is the process of allowing yourself to think about things at an unconscious level, and using it results in “Eureka”, or “light-bulb” moments and break-through ideas. All “creatives” know how it works, and they use it deliberately to help them solve problems, create innovations and exploit opportunities.
Incubation should be factored in to any problem solving process, whether it’s developing new products, improving teamwork, knowing how to lead effectively or generally adapting effectively and well to change. Incubation is the secret ingredient for staying ahead of the game.
So how can you make it work for you?
The process of creative problem solving requires a number of elements coming together, and all human beings have an inbuilt ability to do it. When we use Incubation, whether deliberately or not, we allow ourselves to percolate ideas from deep inside, without directly thinking about them.
This process involves a change of scenery or activity. It explains why sometimes we have breakthrough ideas or find solutions in our sleep or when we are in the shower. By changing the way your thought patterns operate, you can allow your brain to “free-range” and this change allows your brain to see patterns, put pieces together and join the dots. In his recent book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer explain the neuro-science behind this process.
While some people know how to deliberately use Incubation, everyone can learn how to do it. You can learn how to deliberately factor in Incubation time to your personal or organisational processes. Companies like Google and Pixar are famous for using various Incubation techniques, like allowing free time for employees and having free-form work places that provide various activities like talking, playing sports and walking around the grounds, and they have reaped the rewards by becoming dominating players in their fields.
But you don’t need to invest in new buildings or huge organisational change. It’s easy to learn how to increase and exercise Incubation. There are a number of exercises you can do (and which we can help you with) or you can do it yourself. On a personal level, you can go for walks, do crossword puzzles, look at the sea, play a game of squash, or doodle. Any activity that takes your mind off the problem at hand and that allows your thoughts to either roam freely or be focussed on an entirely different activity will do the trick. On an organisational level, you can introduce the deliberate use of Incubation into your decision-making processes.
The key is to understand that Incubation is crucial and necessary to the creativity process, and that with a small investment in time, and learning to understand how it works, you can maximise the production of all innovative solutions.
Working creatively and smart maximises individual and organisational out-put, productivity, ideas and innovation, problem solving, time management and ultimately financial and every other sort of profit.
Make Incubation your friend, and put it to good use.
'To her surprise, she found the great detective, engaged in building card houses.
“It is not, Mademoiselle, that I have become childish in my old age. No. But the building of card houses, I have always found it most stimulating to the mind.”'
Hercule Poirot, Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie
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