For innovation, break the pattern

Patterned behaviour is the enemy of innovation. To put new energy into your business, break the pattern, and let the creativity free.

If you want a great example of a soul-crushing brake on any sort of innovation thinking, look no further than the ongoing debate about where people should work. While some companies have kept the momentum for doing things differently that the pandemic opened up, others are slipping back towards the status quo ante. In some countries, politicians are agitating to get people back into the office. Perhaps they’re motivated by worries about national productivity. Or maybe they’re concerned about the damage being done to property prices.

What they’re clearly not worrying about is creativity. If you want to stifle creativity, lock people into repeated patterns of behaviour. If you intend to unleash innovation, break those patterns, and get people to think in different ways:

By breaking traditional ways of looking at a given problem and facilitating the design of alternative approaches, creativity contributes to the creation of value-adding solutions within an organization.

Break the pattern, and you spur creativity. Traditional working life — the commute, the fixed desk, and the strict 9 to 5 — facilitated the execution of processes at scale. It paid little heed to creativity.

Break the routine, spark innovation

Of course, the cynic would chip in now to suggest that home working can be equally formulaic. Get up, breakfast, get the kids to school, settle down at the same desk you always use. And they would be right — but also be guilty of deploying a straw man. This is the false dichotomy: one must choose home work or office work. The true alternative to the traditional office model is hybrid work, and that doesn’t just mean a hybrid of home and office.

Hybrid work is merely an acknowledgement that the new reality of digital work is that it is largely location-independent: if you have a laptop and a phone, you can work anywhere. And it’s that ability that we want to capitalise on to spark innovation. Yes, the corporate “away day” is nothing new. It’s been a staple part of income for the hotel trade for decades. But that, in of itself, is not a disruption of pattern.

Sometimes breaks in routine can become a pattern in themselves. At what point does an annual away day at the same old hotel just become a new form of routine?

Pattern Interruption

What we’re seeking here is pattern interruption, something many artists actively seek out in their working lives, to break themselves out of patterns of behaviour and thus thinking:

Pattern interruption shakes up a person’s thoughts and behaviours, allowing for new inspiration to enter. When an action or behaviour interrupts our unconscious mind, our brain doesn’t have an instruction for what to do next. Naturally, the present moment determines our next action.

Which means we need to look outside the old routines to find new sources of inspiration. And that means a day spent in a meeting room at a nature reserve, or working together in the park, or on a boat. Anything that breaks you out of cognitive routine and opens up new, unfamiliar thoughts. That’s a change of place leading to a change of perspective. But what about a change of people?

And, as so often, sometimes innovation lies in borrowing from far away. My favourite example of this was the Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London, adapting techniques from Formula One pit stops to the handoff between cardiac surgery and intensive care. The result? A much-improved survival rate.

A dance of innovation

In the same way, business can learn from dance. Yes, really. Why else does John Michael Schert, a former professional dancer and choreographer, as well as a NEXT24 speaker, now work with businesses? Because taking the creative process from dance, and applying it to business, can help trigger that disruption in cognitive patterns you need for innovation to take root.

As Schert explained to the Financial Times:

“We in the arts world have done ourselves a disservice by making our performance the focus of attention,” he says. “There is as much to be learnt from the process that we use to create that performance.”

That’s all very abstract. What does it look like in the real world?

An example of this would be to show that, like people in business, dancers experience failure, and the way that they deal with it can be instructive. “Falling is not the worst thing that happens on stage,” he says. “If you fall, you get up. It is how you get up that counts.”

New creative energy

Injecting an artist into a traditional corporate environment cannot help but bring new energy into the room. Their perspectives and experiences are very different from those of the rest of the people present. Their received wisdom and sense of best practice are very different. They break the chains of established thinking, allowing new patterns to emerge.

Change the place. Change the people. Then you change the perspective.

Let’s allow our cynic to chip in again. “Where’s the work getting done in all this play?”

Well, breaking the pattern requires the existence of the pattern. Innovation, of whatever kind, is a step towards the establishment of a new pattern of behaviour and thinking. Innovation need not be in opposition to productivity, either. Creativity can boost it:

Creativity gives you the space to work smarter instead of harder, which can increase productivity and combat stagnation in the workplace. Routine and structure are incredibly important but shouldn’t be implemented at the expense of improvement and growth.

In an era of polycrisis, we need to give controlled disruption its due. Indeed, we need to encourage it. New energy brings new ideas. And new energy stems from pattern disruption. Consistency is for old business, while disruption brings new business — if you’re clever.

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash.