Stanford Business: How Do You Find Breakthrough Ideas?

How Do You Find Breakthrough Ideas?  What neuroscience tells us about getting the best out of yourself, your colleagues and the boss.

From the perspective of innovation this is critically important to understand and will help you get the best from yourself, your colleagues, and your boss.

Here’s how:

EAT RIGHT AND EXERCISE
Research shows that the best way to maximize creativity is to maintain high levels of both serotonin and dopamine, which will keep a person calm but energized. But how? The path begins with proper rest. A minimum of 30 minutes — but ideally up to 2 hours — of deep sleep reduces cortisol levels and boosts serotonin. That means arriving in bed relaxed by taking a hot shower or bath beforehand, avoiding alcohol in the two hours before bedtime, and turning off all lights, including those illuminating electronic devices, which affect the pineal gland and make people think they should be awake and alert. It also means eating light in the evening and not less than three or four hours before retiring. Digesting a big meal can hamper sleep.

Cardiovascular exercise is also critical. When the heart muscles pump faster, they release a peptide believed to help produce serotonin. That means considering a brisk walk before an afternoon meeting — or better yet, walk and talk. Steve Jobs regularly held “walking” meetings. Mark Zuckerberg does too. The serotonin exercise produces not only will make a person more creative and productive but it also improves the quality of sleep, creating a
positive cycle all around.

ENGAGE YOUR EMPLOYEES
Corporations worried about losing their edge often try to force their employees to work “better, faster, stronger” by applying more pressure or using threats and ultimatums. They believe that the stick, not the carrot, will be more effective in breeding innovation.
Studies show, however, that stress is a poor motivator.

In his best-selling book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Princeton’s Daniel Kahneman explains why. Of the brain’s two basic neural pathways, the first — from anxiety to calm — does not inspire outside-the-box thinking. Workers who are insecure and stressed creep along in terror until they find safety. The goal, then, is to get workers engaging the second pathway — from complacency to excitement — which is much more likely to trigger innovation. That shift is achieved primarily through positive reinforcement: encouragement, respect, and enhanced responsibility.

*Article contributed by Stanford School of Business

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