Zen and the Art of Innovation

by Joseph Giordano

Zen and the Art of InnovationThe Essence of Innovation

For the past 53 years, Synecticsworld has been studying and applying the learning of the processes of collaboration, creativity, creative problem solving and innovation.  As one who has begun studying Buddhism in the last few years, I have been consistently drawn to the similarities amongst the behaviors (and motivations) that are needed for both.

There are writings out there that discuss the Essence of Buddhism.  To borrow from these many writings, I want to offer this summation:  Buddhism is an understanding so that one walks the path of life with “deep inner calm and contentment.” This self-control is the experience of “life satisfaction that resonates to the depths of your mind-body existence.”

How does one navigate such an endeavor of collaboration, creativity, creative problem solving and achieve this state of being and understand the Essence of Innovation?  In order to give perspective, it is important to align on a perspective of what innovation is.

The practice of Synectics defines Innovation as the convergence of Climate (how we treat ourselves and others), Thinking (new ways to see the world around us) and Action (processes that help us drive to newness and breakthrough).  There are some core beliefs that I hold that help bring innovation to the forefront of our work and, and I offer them to you by using some of my favorite quotes from Buddha and Buddhism:


Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

We cannot truly expand our capacity for innovation with out first bringing others into our fold.  When we add others to our work, we exponentially increase our ability to be ingenious with our work.  Too often we work in a lonely place and as a result become more and more recluse with our thoughts.

Buddha says a “jug fills drop by drop.”  When we ask others to share in filling that jug, the task, the work and the results all come quickly.  Whilst we are looking for new outcomes, answers to our challenges and task, the more minds working in unison, the more apt for breakthrough results.


“On life’s journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.”

We must “abandon that which causes or leads to harm and suffering.”  We are often contained by our own feelings and actions that it is hard to look beyond our own perceptions and realities that it creates.  Our self-generated perceptions, in a psychological way, more than most of us ever realize trap us into behaviors that have a negative effect on our subconscious.  Sometimes we’re so confined by our conditioning that we don’t know what causes or leads to negativity in our lives.

Climate is about treating each other and us in ways that creates trust and engenders collaboration.  When we trust others, it allows us to see the positive intentions in others actions.  Climate is about assuming positive intent even when we feel there is none.  In doing so, helps free our subconscious of its own negativity and our tendency for negative reactions is diminished.


We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

Climate has a profound impact on how we are thinking, and more importantly what we are thinking about.  When we are in a great climate, we can focus on thinking about the task, the problem and the solutions that we are ultimately bringing forward.  If our climate is not positive, we then tend put ourselves into self-protection mode.  We get trapped in a self-preservation mindset where we only make offers that keep us safe.  We are not thinking outside the existing boundaries and we remain in a “think harder” mode.

The goal is to “think differently.”  Thinking differently is about being open to new stimulus and inputs and using all of our surroundings as motivation and impetus to bring new thoughts and ideas forward.

Creativity and Connection Making:

“All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”

Creativity occurs at the convergence of great Climate and new Thinking.  When this convergence happens, we begin to see things that would not exist otherwise.  We start to see, hear and feel the relationships among connected and often disconnected thoughts, ideas and feelings.

These relationships, these connections, are the essence creativity.  We are in connection making mode when we allow ourselves to be open to the following:

Selective Encoding:  When we see one or more features not previous obvious we have allowed ourselves to be open-minded and accepting of what we may have not paid attention to before.

Selective Comparison:  We discover non-obvious relationships between new information and information acquired in the past.  We force a connection between the two pieces of information to create newer understanding

Selective Combination:  When we put together elements of a problem in a way that had previously not been obvious, and in turn creates new meaning and understanding for ourselves.


An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”

Knowing where to turn, knowing where to step to is at the heart of Buddhism.  It takes conscious effort and action to investigate and attain outcomes for our creative collaboration.  Creativity is only a portion of the mindset for getting to innovation.  To truly achieve innovation, achieve the higher order, we must be purposeful in process and choose our paths for idea development that begin with choosing what no one has chosen before as our beginning point.  When we have done so, we will have chosen those beginning steps that are intriguing, exciting, new and by association have the most potential for breakthrough.  To get to this breakthrough, we will need a process that tenaciously takes this beginning step and transforms it into a solution that maintains intrigue and excitement.


“I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.”

A famous Buddhist, Steve Jobs, was quoted as saying “Innovation is the creativity that ships…

As good climate, new thinking and purposeful action come together; the end result is innovation.  Getting the work that has been done through creative collaboration, whether it is new business processes or new product and services, activated for growth is the true sign that innovation has occurred.  It is the constant mindset that there is always more to be done and innovation just doesn’t end is the epiphany that is had when individuals, teams and organizations are truly pushing forward in impacting their businesses.

Buddhism sets us off on our path to unchaining, the release of that which binds us, to freeing ourselves so we can live a life of contentment and mindfulness. Buddhism is a process as is reaching innovation.  It is a purposeful way of attaining wisdom and connecting with all that is around us as is using climate, thinking and action to grow oneself and truly be innovative.

image credit: Sebastian Klein ~3dbasti

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Zen and the Art of InnovationJoseph Giordano is a consultant and Principal with Synecticsworld. His work includes development program design and delivery, competency development, and mapping and large meeting design and facilitation for behavioral change. Joseph designs and facilitates projects and engagements for strategy and strategic team development, product and service innovation based on consumer and customer insights, organizational change and business process improvement. He writes about Innovation and Buddhism here and for Synecticsworld.

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  1. Joey, that’s what I call deliberate synergy hitting the Synectics BOK. Have you been talking to Joe Gammal about this?

  2. Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.
    —- Voltaire

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