Innovation? Stop thinking!

An Austrian daily newspaper chose the provoking headline »Stop Thinking!« for its most recent careers edition.

Now, that might remain a virtuous desire in these days of high-performance societies that are defined primarily by efficiency and optimization. And yet the newspaper presumably hits the nail on the »head« when it comes to the needs of its readers. The pressure on our minds, the surplus information and the fast pace often make our working lives a mad rush.

»We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.« (Albert Einstein)

Indeed, the »ability-to-switch-off-thought« appears to be an increasingly desirable ability – even when it involves something new, innovation. Whenever we want to solve problems, when we want to »innovate«, we have to overcome our habitual thought structures. Because – as Einstein recognized – those problems are only those problems within those particular thought structures.

Yet our habitual thought structures are there to provide us with security, to distance us from others, ultimately to create our »selves«. Dispensing with these habitual thought structures opens up within us a large space for insecurity, fear – even pain.

My question is: is it purely a case of changing our thought structures, or is there another way to open ourselves up to something »new«?

My answer: intuition!

If we succeed in diverting attention from rational orientation to perception of the preconscious areas – intuition – which account for 90-95% of our brain, then we save ourselves the painful path to forcibly changing our thought structures. After all, as we know, forced rational change ultimately leads to unsustainable results. Or have any of us actually been able to change ourselves in that way?

Presumably, »identifying-with-oneself« is not the silver bullet in every work process. Yet with new challenges, with innovative work or with change processes, the »subconscious intelligence« in our »guts« often tells us more intelligent things than our brains do. After all, the subconscious processes several million pieces of information each second – consciousness is just a minute part of that! We are conscious of not even one per cent of what the brain is doing at that moment. And our experiences show, complex decisions are usually tedious and time-consuming on a conscious level, whereas intuitive decision-making is always fast and effortless.

One thing is for sure: the »Homo economicus« is slowly losing interest in its rational maximization of the utility function and the associated sober weighing of the costs and benefits to each decision. René Descartes’ »I think therefore I am« becomes António Damásio’s »I feel therefore I am«. Tellingly, Descartes was a mathematician and natural scientist, whereas Damásio is a neuroscientist and consciousness researcher.

I think (and feel): nowadays we need both!

But feeling has a lot of catching up to do.

On that note, instead of »Stop Thinking!« the next edition could be called »Start Feeling!«

© SHA. 2015