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Innovation Comes from Working in Flow

By Annabelle Hoffman |

When you are in the 'zone' you are so focused that you have no idea how long you have spent doing something and you are having such a good time that you really do not want it to stop. Innovative ideas pour out of you.

American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly describes this as the state of 'flow'. It's a condition of heightened focus, productivity, and happiness that we all intuitively understand and hunger for.

Thinking with flow can also be a powerful tool in both business and life.

Have you ever done a project and hours passed without you knowing? I often equate this to my experience with "doughnuts".

In one of my 'past lives' I used to travel to Paris as a buyer for a national retailer. On these long flights we would invent ways to overcome our boredom. Occasionally I had the opportunity to sit beside Elliot, who was the CEO of "the" largest Canadian garment house.

Elliot and I would pass the time talking about doughnuts. If I said I could eat 6 doughnuts in one sitting Elliot would quip back that he could eat seven.

Looking at our waistlines, one couldn't say that we had made this up. We truly enjoyed the time arguing about whether chocolate milk or homogenized white milk was the best accompaniment.

Then after a bit of this 'nonsense banter' we became creative.

From doughnuts we expanded to desserts of all kinds -- Gateau St. Honoree, crème caramel, Twinkies, croissants, cherry cheesecake … the list went on and on.

Oh, how we could brainstorm about desserts! We had no idea of the size of the audience around us. We were so engrossed in inventing fattening desserts as the loud speaker interrupted our joy to tell us "to buckle our seat belts".

This kind of "flow" thinking has value beyond the passing of time. It is this kind of thinking that led to inventions like the chocolate croissant AND the Chocolate name for cell phones.

The innovation guidelines can be quite simple. Work in flow. Use a beginners mind. Include new participants and a divergent group in your brainstorming sessions. Finally, work on problems you have never worked on.

Entrepreneurs will often find themselves too busy working on their business to allow time for creativity and innovation. But I would challenge you to build time for innovative thinking into your schedule.

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