Tame your ‘gator brain’

In an age dominated by innovation, too much can stand between a good idea and its execution. There’s our ambivalence about creativity, for one thing. Research supports the view that while we say we want and need it, creativity makes us so anxious that we tend to opt for the status quo. Our reaction to uncertainty is partly hard-wired, according to innovation consultancy New and Improved. “An alligator’s reaction to newness in its environment is to eat it, attack it, or run from it,” they say. That reaction is controlled by the brain stem – the “gator brain” – that initiates fight-or-flight. Humans possess a similar set-up, so “reacting to newness or new ideas from the gator brain is a sure way to kill creativity in yourself and others around you”. Then there are the obstacles we manufacture ourselves. Dave Owens teaches at Vanderbilt and has worked as a creativity and innovation consultant for organisations as diverse as NASA and LEGO. In Creative People Must be Stopped, he outlines typical impediments to creativity and innovation – public criticism, bureaucracy, risk aversion, an ambush by threatened competitors or customers, overregulation – and how to get around them. “How can a great idea get killed?” Owens asks. “Let me count the ways. While most organisations give lip service to promoting innovation and creative ideas, they all too often sabotage ‘outside the box’ thinking among the rank and file.” Leaders need to promote the view that innovation is everyone’s job, adds Ron Ashkenas, author of The GE Work-Out and Simply Effective. “Great organisations don’t depend on a small number of exclusive people to come up with innovations,” he says. “Instead they create a culture in which every employee is encouraged and empowered to innovate – whether it’s in processes, products or services.”


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