Innovative Minds have something in common with F-16’s, Bebob Jazz Players, Ocean Surfers and Creative Artists.

I have been studying innovative minds for more than a decade primarily driven by a quest to understand how these people solve problems in a complex world. More specifically, I have been obsessed by a desire to comprehensively understand how brilliant minds invent solutions to problems which have them obsessively fixated. Having studied these innovators from multiple viewpoints i.e. epistemological angle, information systems approach, complexity and chaos research,  neuro-psychological frame, Optimization and Metaheuristics frame (specifically Unconscious Search (US) processes), EEG pattern studies and many other frames, I am now sure I have all the answers. Having tested the methodology in very specific contexts, I can also clearly see what is wrong with our world.

Innovative people or high performance predictive embodied minds are significantly different from creative individuals in that they can take their innovative thinking to the front line of action orientation. A thorough testing of the process with myself over many contexts led to a service methodology named “Outcomes as a Service” or “OaaS”. Basis empirical research, you must note the key difference between creative people and innovative people. It seems that they are poles apart.

Everyone can be creative while thinking, musing, imagining and ranting but very few people can be creative in implementation. I will discuss a broad analogy that will highlight how these innovative implementors operate in this complex world. For a more specific toolkit (Level 2 out of 12 levels), you may want to look at the program Mental Model Innovation ©

From the beginning of our lifespan, we are always seeking familiar territory, events, people and processes in our environment. What we call mind is a very complex, multi-hierarchical processing layer of computations. Creative thinking occurs at the top layers in this hierarchy. Eventually, the top layers have to delegate the bottom layers (kinematic action using choices and actions) with a task of executing the creativity in the real world. At the top layers, creativity is very common as our top layers are involved in generating multi-dimensional, multi-outcome probabilistic trajectories. However, less than 2-3% of this top-level creative freedom percolates down to the action layers. Individuals who keep living in a world of creative thinking and never execute or implement their creativity can never verify whether their creativity will work in the real world. Many entrepreneurs who want to create the next big thing or dream of creating a billion-dollar business empire are so convinced with the invincibility of their juvenile drivel soon realize their folly.

Innovative Implementors have graduated beyond their flim-flam know that most of the creative ideas are useless in the real world. They become enlightened when they become aware of the “Uselessness of Seemingly Useful Information“. Take an acclaimed professor with big credentials and make them run a company. I guarantee you that they will spectacularly fail. Innovative Implementors are different in many ways than the creative musers and I will provide you an easy analogy to remember the key difference.

Everyone must be familiar with the F-16 fighter jet manufactured by General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martine). Tom Cruise flew an earlier version of the model F-14 Tom Cat in the movie “Top Gun”. I bet many of you do not know that the F-16 design is unique in the sense that it was the first warfighting aircraft intentionally designed to be slightly aerodynamically unstable to improve maneuverability. … Aircraft with negative stability are designed to deviate from controlled flight and thus be more maneuverable. Negative Stability is simple to explain using the below graphic.

Most systems, our home, our cities, our culture and even our relationships are designed around high stability environments. This propensity or inertia to return to stable equilibrium allows us to maintain the status quo in the environment. Such a design environment reduces risk and cost but also reduces maneuverability and innovation. Creativity can thrive in such an environment as creative thoughts ideas, trajectories are rarely translated into action which could otherwise generate perturbation in a system.

Then, there are systems with negative stability which could be designed as such or may emerge into our environment. In these environments, everything changes rapidly without much warning. Using the example of the fighter jet F-16, a commercial airline pilot would find it challenging to fly an F-16 but can fly a conventional warfighter plane such as F-14 Tomcat with some training. To be able to fly an F-16 will require significantly higher skill as these jets are harder to operate.

Similarly, innovative individuals are like well-trained pilots of F-16 who can operate and even thrive in systems with negative stability. They can make sense of chaos, uncertainty and can use inherent risk in the environment to their advantage. Even skilled musicians such as Bebop jazz players who can innovate and improvise while playing music are good examples of innovative minds. As per Wikipedia, “Bebop or bop is a style of jazz developed in the early to mid-1940s in the United States, which features songs characterized by a fast tempo, complex chord progressions with rapid chord changes and numerous changes of key, instrumental virtuosity, and improvisation based on a combination of harmonic structure, the use of scales and occasional references to the melody.”

We can find such people in every field and even in hobbyist activities like ocean surfers who remain ahead of the rapidly changing wake. A skilled surfer navigates skillfully to always stay slightly ahead of the wake which allows the surfer to gain strength from his/her position while avoiding getting caught up in the damage caused by a wave break. It seems that these innovative brains are restless by design or by default who are always trying to make optimal use of their predictive sixth sense by accurately predicting the ever-changing environment.

We can now summarize what is common between F-16 fighter jets, Innovative Brains, Skilled Ocean Surfers and Bebop Jazz Players

  • Thrive in Uncertainty – Individuals or Systems capable of stability in unstable environments can thrive and succeed in uncertain environments with rapidly changing variables.  Uncertain environments are systems with unequal equilibrium or systems with negative stability.
  • Use of Predictive Sixth Sense – These individuals or systems always stay ahead of the curve. Their perception and action cycles are so well intertwined that perception/action act as twin siblings mirroring each other in a perfect dance as they progress.
  • Improvisation on the Go – These individuals or systems can improvise and innovate on demand as the system dynamics change by creating opportunities at the intersection of inertia and resistance.
  • Action Oriented –  They can perform as well in simulation (training, imagining, scenario analysis) as they can do in reality. As one of my former bosses used to ask ” Can you turn my water into wine ?”. These action oriented people are everyday turning “Water into Wine

Finally, these “High Performers” intuitively, optimally and successfully trade off cost, risk and performance trade-offs in the way of achieving their goals.

I will leave you with a food for thought. Are you one of these individuals? Do you work in one of these organizations?