The Aggregation Pond – Part 1

Hello, World!

Thank you for reading the first blog. Thank you for your reactions, the comments, and the new connections. In this second blog, I would like to go deeper into the Aggregation Pond (AP). As I mentioned in the previous blog, the AP is a container responsible for holding and aggregating the information to spark my innovation and creative thinking. 

Why do I consider my innovation process to happen through an “aggregation pond”? I am a very figurative person. I need images to function and explain my ideas and view, even to myself. The pond is a metaphor of the human body, a container of physical components and intangible ones. I am made of water, blood, bones, and many more ingredients, but I am also made of all those aspects that we cannot see through our eyes or medical imaging. We can see the thinking process and its effect on fMRI blobs of light arising in certain parts of the brain. In the same manner, we can map emotions through MVPA and state-of-the-art imaging. Still, we are at the stone age of understanding our human behavior’s functioning compared to the knowledge that we have in other branches of medicine. Artificial Intelligence and computing power most likely will create breakthroughs soon, but at the time of writing this little self-reflection note, there is still a lot of magic going on behind the scene. Hence, the intangible part of my identity acts like magic within the boundary of my physical body, and of my aggregation pond.

Back to the pond, now. In my case represents the collection of the physical and abstract ingredients of the innovation process. It contains the ideas, people, existing connections, types of intelligence necessary for innovation, and much more. Together, they render the whole process efficient and optimized depending on a myriad of variables and the context. My opinion on the way I function and how I have been innovative and creative is that I can maximize the chances for the outcome. Still, I cannot force it either predict it. It’s beyond direct control. My objective is to create the foundations and combinations of parameters that are apt to define the best scenario. I want to play around the curve’s maximum and try to hang out there for as long as possible. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Overall, I believe that being more innovative and creative has dramatically improved since I have self-managed and oriented my personal process. 

The AP is not defined at birth. It is not limited by the type of school or education. Or, I’d better say, scientific findings show that it is not rigidly defined. I have values and principles formed during the early year of my growth. They depend on the socio-cultural environment, the individual choices, those that were made for me, and, I think, some level of randomness. The AP is not defined by what I imagine will happen to me in the future. That position at Walt Disney will finally help me be innovative. Working for Google and accessing their super-innovative building will render me the genius I am supposed to be. That is not going to happen. I cannot rely simply on external, future factors to enhance my innovation.

I am convinced that my aggregation ponds’ size and shape depend mostly on the attitude, values, and decisions I make daily. Does it help to have been born in a specific environment, a positive culture? My family certainly helped me in creating an open mind attitude. The school system that I was in during my childhood and teenage time was also great. I had plenty of extra activities to choose from and a general sense of freedom and support that helped me in the early phase of my life to shape my journey. Everything else is in my hands. How I decide to re-shape, increase the AP volume, or the flowrate of innovative thinking is up to me and the choices I make today. I have in my hands what I need for my journey: a critically positive approach, a supportive environment, tools, experience, a beginner’s mind, passion, and courage. With these, I can increase my AP’s size and make it more vital and vibrant, so that more innovative thinking chances will stem. As I do this onto myself, as I test various approaches and the subsequent results, I use a combination of scrum and design thinking on me to find what works best. I can then apply the effects on my team, not to force my recipe on them, as it wouldn’t work, but to help them create the groundwork, their own foundations. With that, they can individually find their AP and then construct the team-pond together. What works for me is very specific, but certain aspects and traits are shared. Multiple scientific, business and psychological studies confirm this. 

In the following paragraphs, I would like to share what has worked to create a more “innovative me” and the total-innovation™ approach.

Let’s rewind today’s movie, the movie of my life in the last 12 hours and see what has happened. I woke up with the AP defined by its shape and size from yesterday, but that the night sleep has made a bit shallower and denser, thus less prone to ignite sparks of creativity. This happened most likely because of the lack of quality sleep and the last few days that have been quite hyperactive and stressful, without many chances of recovering and focusing on what is essential. My morning meditation (Headspace) helped in creating a slightly better fluidity in the pond dynamic. SAVERS, an approach I have taken and personalized from a podcast, helped me digging and doing some construction work on the pond to be propaedeutic to my blog’s writing. This overall process, part of my morning routine, takes 30 minutes. This is where it all gets personal and where proactivity comes in: I must decide how I use my time and priorities. Suppose I want to continue my innovation journey. In that case, I know that I must keep on practicing specific muscles, which requires time. The best time of the day for doing this part of the innovation exercise is in the morning. But this is my personal approach.

The vegetation, the soil’s quality, and the water in my pond are helped by the combination of attitudes and values that work best for me. These are recognized as the basis for creative and innovative thinking: curiosity, humbleness, courage, (critical) positivity, and the safety of the environment. 

Let me start from the last one, which probably is the least controllable. Living and working in an environment that is perceived as psychologically safe is crucial for innovation, and for many more positive things happening to my life. Suppose I am in a constant state of “amygdala hijack.” In that case, this will trigger multiple adverse biochemicals and cascade effects. If I am in the savannah, surrounded by lions, innovation is not the most immediate of my needs. Running or hiding is a much better choice (system 1). At work (or at home, Covid-docet), this persistent state of stress and the unsafe environment is conducive to the opposite of creative thinking and innovation. It will most likely trigger risk minimization and follow-the-known-path, with the long-term consequences of killing creative thinking. As a team member or a human being who wants to be more innovative, it helps to feel psychologically safe. This doesn’t mean stress-free. The right amount and type of stress, of tension, helps create the vibrations for innovation. As a team or organization leader, this means creating an environment where team members will feel safe and supported to speak up, make decisions, share, and challenge. 

Curiosity is my favorite one. It’s also the one that is fundamental for being innovative. I have been curious during my life, and I reckon there is a strong link with my positivity. I remember embracing every possible activity that was provided at school in the after-hours. I was not a nerd; I like to tell myself that I simply was into many things. Everything seemed exciting and cool and worth trying: flute, acting, pascal programming, playing an instrument, volleyball, basket, sailing, writing, photography, English, German, etc. There wasn’t one week in which I didn’t try something new. I was on a constant need for new experiences. I was a junkie before knowing it. Mostly, my family encouraged me to be free and try things, but I reckon there was something in my DNA that forced me to be curious to not be bored. Being interested as a path leading to happiness. Whereas the environment’s psychological safety is not wholly in my hands, being curious is entirely in my autonomy and capacity. I have found a few tricks that help me remaining curious and adventurous about experimenting with new things:

The beginner’s mind. I didn’t know this definition before starting meditation, but it’s crucial in Buddhism and introspection. I try to approach everything as if a was a kid, and I was doing it for the first time. In any case, I am not a master of anything. Therefore, this comes quite natural and straightforward. Besides, approaching things with this mindset avoids feeling trapped with the need to show-off, and is an antidote to blindly follow my biases and bad habits. 

Asking why. Asking why to oneself is the best companion to being curious and, therefore, to fostering an innovative mind. I feel comfortable in using the “why” with me. On the other hand, I prefer to use different formulations with other people. “Why” can be felt as threatening, lighting up the amygdala, while “what makes you think/say/do…” it’s a much safer approach. 

Chose who you hang out with. Being surrounded by curious and inquisitive people helped me participate in the creation of a growing spiral of creativity. Everyone in the circle helps to fuel and make the terrain more fertile. More to come in the networking blog.

Dedicate 10 minutes a day to something new. Podcasts, TV shows, TEDCoursera, joining a club, talk to a “random” contact on LinkedIn, subscribe to Blinkist… there is no limit to what one can do in today’s world to foster this curious and learning mind. 

Bless failure and self-ignorance. It’s written everywhere and widely known that innovative companies are courageous because they push people to try and fail. As much as this could be complicated because of the environment (once again, the psychological safety), I am the only shareholder when I am experimenting on myself. Thus, I can try, learn, enjoy the process, fail, retry, and go on in an infinite look of improvement, joy, and curiosity. Self-ignorance is also a key, as it makes me question myself about everything I think I know. One of the things I remember about my math 101 courses in Milan’s Polytechnic was that 1+1 is approximately 2. That’s the spirit. Besides, 1+1 would be 10 if I didn’t specify that we were in a binary system, hence the humbleness approach, enlightened ignorance, and positivity that works for me (Thinking-in-bets). 

Being humble is already appeared above, mixed with many concepts related to curiosity. It’s a crucial way to remain anchored to reality, keep my ego under control, and enjoy life at its fullest. Not having to demonstrate that I am the smartest in the room or in the team, not having the answers ready, knowing that I am full of biases. No matter how I study and try to tame them, they will sooner or later catch-up with me. But even so, knowing that I am no superhuman, and affected by biases, makes me smile when I catch myself being the victim of one of our mind traps.  I will discuss courage and critical positivity, together with other techniques and tools for making the Aggregation Pond livelier and more active in two weeks. Stay tuned, and please reach out to share your views, comments, or techniques you have used (successfully and not) in your quest to become more innovative.