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This Is How Innovative People Think!

This Is How Innovative People Think!

Check out these ten intelligent ways that innovative people think and act differently!

1. They pay attention to patterns.

Specifically, they utilize Apophenia, the ability to perceive patterns within random data to help point them toward relationships and potential problems. This tendency is tied, by necessity, to strong powers of observation. If you’re paying attention to what’s happening around you, you’re bound to notice a few patterns.

That’s a human tendency, after all. However, there are some people who see patterns in random happenings more than the average person. This ability to perceive a large number of patterns also allows for the ability to see potential problems before they are realized. People endowed with this ability often make excellent innovators and leaders.

However, Slate writer Katy Waldman points out that drawing too many connections can create its own problems:

“So apophenia cuts both ways – it’s a profoundly human habit of mind that can underlie adaptive behaviors and reward flights of fancy, or induce all kinds of paranoia and silliness.”

In fact, in its extreme form apophenia can signal the presence of schizophrenia – definitely not a desirable diagnosis. One example is the story of Bobby Fischer, recently documented in the historically-based film “Pawn Sacrifice.” Fischer was a chess champion whose thinking devolved into conspiratorial thinking and paranoia, but he was also a genius who very likely utilized apophenia to predict a significant number of moves that could be made during his chess matches.

2. They analyze data on a large scale.

After observing the patterns mentioned above, they funnel that tendency into concrete terms via analysis of data on a massive scale – or ‘big data.’ For example, D.J. Patil, the first resident data scientist of the White House, has stated that one of his main goals is to offer a “vision on how to provide maximum social return on federal data.” This goal is a very innovative one, and it serves as a positive signal to U.S. citizens that their government is trying to utilize the data being collected on them for something positive and useful – as opposed to stereotypes about the NSA and other breaches of privacy in the news.

3. They embrace high-risk situations.

For example, they derive funding from venture capital in order to help them fund new business ventures, a practice that is high risk but carries much potential for pay-offs and rewards.

Robert Mooradian, professor of Finance at Northeastern University, recently discussed venture capital as something that’s helping to support innovation:

“These big corporate structures don’t do as well in terms of getting new innovations started, in terms of developing new innovations, so most of these public companies are active in seeking out these kinds of targets [for acquisition].”

Because the startups involved in venture capital investments and funding have few financial assets, the investments are financially high-risk. However, these innovative startups often have a great deal of intellectual capital, a trait that is very attractive to venture capitalists. Another advantage to deriving funding from venture capitalists is the inherent publicity built in to sharing a project with the type of people who tend to invest in promising new startups is that those investors often carry a great deal of clout with fellow influencers with financial capital.

4. They are very curious.

Because they are very curious, they are interested in learning as much as they can from people and situations around them. They also seek out new information via recreational reading and conducting informal research on topics that interest them. Basically, they’re autodidacts: they love to learn on their own, without any external encouragement or traditional class structure needed.

In addition to traditional library-based research for new information, they also view every conversation as an opportunity to learn something new. They recognize that every individual is unique and has their own knowledge to offer to those willing to seek it out.

5. They are excellent listeners who are very empathetic.

That is, not only are they good at listening well to people and truly hearing what they have to say, but they also are able to mentally and emotionally put themselves in the speaker’s proverbial shoes, imagining what it would be like to live through the situation being presented to them. They have, in other words, a high degree of emotional intelligence. This ability lends credence to the listener, from the speaker’s perspective. As a result, good listeners make very good managers, since working side-by-side – metaphorically speaking – is often much more motivating for employees than working with a top-down approach.

6. They are persistent.

That is, while they strive for perfection, they continue going forward, regardless of obstacles or pauses in the momentum of their progress. The statistics about Abraham Lincoln come to mind. As this article interestingly points out, Lincoln’s successes were as numerous as his failures; it was because of his persistence, in fact, that he was able to succeed. Inevitably, a large number of attempts will include a certain number of failures – due to imperfection and statistical chance, among other factors. If you fail to try a substantial number of times, however, your effort is bound to yield fewer successes than if you’d put in a few more attempts.

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7. They are inherently creative and understand the creative process.

Take, for another example, the writer’s life, which requires an enormous amount of patience, considering the time and dedication that a book necessitates. Some of the best advice my thesis advisor ever gave me was the following succinct imperative: “Don’t rush.”

Yes, it’s possible to finish a book in a year, but why would you want to do that? It would likely be less impressive than the same document more thoroughly revised and sat with for a more substantial amount of time – so as to allow the ideas and images to sufficiently percolate and develop. This is the nature of the creative process. It demands a sort of two steps forward, one step back kind of approach that inevitably involves a great deal of ‘muddling,’ or experimentation.

8. They embrace paradoxical thinking.

The rejection of either/or thinking is one of the most crucial elements that go into good critical thinking.

As number ten on this list reminds us, “Great innovators do not see the world in black and white. While many people come to “either/or” conclusions, they strive to see “both/and.”

This idea reminds me of Walt Whitman’s lines from section 51 of “Song of Myself” that argue so passionately for complexity:

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“Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

The greatest thinkers are always keenly aware of the value of paradox and complexity in all things.

9. They are non-conformists.

In other words, good innovators choose to avoid what everyone else is doing and set out on their own, instead. Take Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack who was recently named 2015 Technology Innovator by Wall Street Journal magazine. Slack is a new chat room app that has become wildly popular and has apparently become “the fastest-growing business application of all time.” That’s quite an achievement.

Yet the concept is simple: provide a chat room environment that feels more spacious – its virtual ‘rooms’ are larger than those of Google messenger, for example – while also providing a convenient, flexible, and interactive way for colleagues to share files. With those characteristics, Slack combines the best features of email and IM platforms. It also adds characteristics of social sharing sites like Facebook by enabling emoji-style reactions to conversation channels. The result is a messaging app that doesn’t conform in the slightest.

10. They are “human, yet highly resilient.”

A recent article by Kim Booth emphasizes several different traits often found in innovative leaders, and one of them was the ability to show resilience in the face of opposition and setbacks. Inherent resilience is a highly desirable trait for someone to have, especially when surrounded by people who might be scared or confused. This is a wonderful leadership quality that comes in handy especially during times of uncertainty or chaos – such as corporate restructuring, or a company move to a new building.

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During times like these, it’s important to have a leader who provides an example of idealistic, resilient thinking; providing this type of example inspires endurance and courage in others, as well as unique, innovative ways to deal with hardship and uncertainty. In fact, sometimes it is uncertainty that allows for the most innovative kinds of thinking: what is there to lose, after all, when there’s nowhere to go but up?

Next time you’re stuck and having trouble moving forward on a project or personal goal, try changing direction with a new approach taken from one of the ten ideas listed above. Let me know how it goes in the comments below!

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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