September 11,2019 Facilitating Innovation

Innovation Activities

Innovation Activities


The mind experiences difficulties when it attempts to predict the future and project where to be in the future. It is difficult to articulate a vision even when the person understands the general idea. Drawing aids the process of connecting thoughts and ideas to practical contexts.

Drawing is just one example of an activity of being able to help refocus the brain from executive thought to deeper thought where innovation occurs. The goal of applying an innovation activity during a meeting or workshop is simply to break-up standard thought processes. For example, a facilitator takes a paperclip and asks the participants to come up with as many uses for the paperclip as possible. The first answers are evident and come to the mind easily. However, the exercise is to extend this example and asking for more uses. This forces the participants to shift to deeper levels of thought going beyond obvious ideas. Not only are the participant’s ideas more creative but they are now cognitively warmed up to begin the innovation process.

Innovation inducing activities play an additional key role by silencing the noise that tends to break up focused thought. The mind moves into an innovative state and subtly tunes external stimuli out. Innovation activity examples include walking, playing, building with crafts, reflecting, writing, and of course drawing.


Innovation can’t just be the implementation of best practices. Innovation is new by definition. Best practices is simply copying others which makes a company average with no competitive advantage. The creativity comes from deeper levels of thought and understanding which can be difficult to achieve in the modern-day work pace.

Innovation activities provide importance with their ability to shift out of executive thought. This style of thought is intuitive, quick, and many times thoughtless. Typically, intuition and quick reaction is linear thought. Unfortunately, organizations are ecosystems which needs systematic thought to be effectively understood.

The innovation process is similar to baking a cake. Creative insights have to go through a measured process and given time to develop. It takes time to think through an ecosystem to effectively create. The game of chess is a prime example of this deeper cognitive process of thinking through potential scenarios and responses without rushing into a response. This is different thinking from running day to day operations and innovation activities help to shift the mind.

There is also a unique side benefit to participating in these activities, increased memory benefit. Myra Fernandes’s research discovered that drawing pictures not only engages the brain creatively but also acts as a mnemonic technique that improves memory.  Drawing not only helped to engage the mind in projecting the future, helping to conceptualize thoughts with ideas, but it also helps the participants retain that information months later.

Practical Applications

  • During your next team meeting, start off with trying an innovation activity. Then reflect to see if it made an impact.
  • Incorporate these activities into your next planning sessions and workshops. While they can seem time-consuming, the more activities, the better the outcomes will be.
  • Make it socially acceptable at work for your team to run their own creativity experiments by themselves and encourage the whole team to do it.

Inebriated Problem Solving

Professor Andrew Jarosz wanted to understand the effects of alcohol and creativity. At Mississippi State University, under controlled conditions, served cocktails to twenty male students. Bringing the students alcohol limit to 0.75, slightly under the legal limit. He then tested the student on word association problems.

His study discovered that inebriated students responded quicker than the control groups. They also had a higher percentage of correct answers and solved 13% to 20% more problems than other participants that were sober. Additionally, the study showed a direct link that alcohol consumption improved creativity.

Alcohol does slow the brain down, but creative problem solving is improved sometimes with a loss of focus. Michael Sayette performed similar research which found that people under the influence were susceptible to mind wandering which is also useful in creative thinking. Both studies did find however that once the alcohol limit goes beyond the 0.08 limit the improvements dissipated and performance became worse than sober participants. This work reframes the original thoughts of how effective strategic planning is while sitting at the bar.


Beard, A. (2018). Drunk People Are Better At Creative Problem Solving. Harvard Business Review.

Fernandes, M. (2018). The Surprising Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Sayette, M. (2009). Lost in the Sauce The Effects of Alcohol on Mind Wandering? Psychological Science, 747-752.

Watson, M. (2018). Common Strategies and Practices Among Facilitators of Innovative Thinking in Organizations. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.

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