The Flux Lines of Innovation

The Flux Lines of InnovationThere are countless books, tools, processes, methodologies and frameworks for innovation.

And cutting across all theory and practice, the biggest fundamental of innovation is fear.

We define fear as bad because it limits new thinking and new actions, but there’s another way to look at it. We should look at fear as a leading indicator of innovation potential.

When inputs, outputs, or contexts are different than expectations, our bodies create physical symptoms we recognize as fear. It’s this chemical change in the body, manifested as cold sweats, tingling hands, difficulty in breathing, or knotted stomachs, that’s the tell-tale sign innovation is in the house.

If things are predictable, knowable, understandable, there is no fear. And if things are predictable, knowable, understandable there is no innovation. By the associative theorem: no fear, no innovation.

We should learn to use our bodies as innovation barometers. When pressure builds, especially when we don’t know why, we should recognize our fear, not as a blocker of innovation, but as a leading indicator of it.

Innovation, especially the type that reinvents, is not an in-the-head thing, it’s an in-the-chest thing. It’s indescribable, un-scriptable, and almost spiritual. Just as migratory birds sense weak magnetic fields to guide themselves home, we can use our bodies to sense fear and guide ourselves along the flux lines of innovation.

Fear is scary and can be uncomfortable. But for innovation, it’s scarier if there’s no fear.

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Mike ShipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior.  He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.

Mike Shipulski




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  1. Lydia H. ( on May 24, 2013 at 11:47 am

    A valuable perspective on fear in the innovation context. What always comes along with it in my opinion is the importance to support individuals in overcoming their fear on a regular basis and animating people to step out of their comfort zones. Generally, fear can keep people from trying out new things which stops the creative innovation process before it can actually develop. To overcome also small fears by breaking ones routines broadens the horizon – another fundamental of innovation. In this vein, “follow the fear”, one of the basic principles of improvisation theatre, where people have to develop stories out of nothing, can be a helpful mindset. On the other hand it is also important to promote a framework where people feel safe to stretch their comfort zones and to strive for the most innovative ideas. This can be achieved through a positive “error culture” and a fun atmosphere.

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