I recently read Steve Johnson’s fascinating book,Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation The book’s premise is that innovation depends upon the capacity of organisms (and individuals) to make as many new connections as possible, and to be in environments that encourage random collisions among all elements of a system.
The author covers a lot of ground – from the origins of carbon-based life on earth, to the complex structure of coral reefs, to the science of neurons and synapses in the brain, to the richness of cities, to the intricacies of technological platforms. A common factor that leads to diversity and innovation anywhere in the universe is plasticity and connectivity.
How does this premise relate to communication at work?
I work with many engineers and managers at high-tech companies. I regularly see people sitting alone for long hours in their cubicles. They may skip lunch, or else rush to the café, get takeaway food, and return to their drab gray walls to work alone. Of course some work requires concentration, but the lack of connections with others outside their immediate teams may preclude them from those new connections and random collisions that spark innovative ideas.
Thus, a conscious effort to engage new people in different ways can be helpful to your work and career. Engagement is actually easy if it becomes a priority. Sit in your company café rather than return to your cubicle. Take advantage of the company fitness room. Attend the quarterly team building offsite event. Make it your goal to strike up a conversation with someone in the elevator, or who commutes with you, or whose car is parked next to yours in the lot.
A flowing, energizing 2012
My intention this year is to make put myself in new situations, communicate with new people and unfamiliar environments, and thus be open to the creative, liquid flow of possibilities. It does take effort and energy to attend a lecture, dance, sports event, or neighborhood gathering. I try to keep in mind that the others are also hesitant, unsure what to talk about, and convinced everyone else is already connected. Instead I am going to focus on the potential payback: greater insights and a richness of experiences that will prime my brain to link it all in some amazing way to spark a new idea.
I wish you an innovative year.