Mind-Body Motivation for Innovation

by Mike Shipulski

Mind-Body Motivation for InnovationMind and body are connected, literally. It’s true – our necks bridge the gap. Don’t believe me? Locate one end of your neck and you’ll find your head or body; locate the other and you’ll find the other. And not only are they connected, they interact. Shared blood flows between the two and that means shared blood chemistry and shared oxygen. And not only is the plumbing shared, so is the electrical. The neck is the conduit for the nerves which pass information between the two and each communicate in a closed loop way. Because it’s so obvious It sounds silly to describe the connectedness in this way, yet we still think of them as separate.

When the mind-body is combined into a single element our perspectives change. For one, we realize the significance of the environment because wherever the body is the mind is. If your body walks your mind to a hot place, your body is hot and so is your mind. No big deal? Go to the beach in mid- summer, stand in the 105 degree heat for 1 hour, then do some heavy critical thinking. Whether the environment is emotionally hot or temperature hot, it won’t go well. Sit your body in a noisy, chaotic environment for two hours then try to come up with the new technology to keep your company solvent. Keep your body awake for 24 hours and try to solve a fundamental problem to reinvent your business model. I don’t think so.

Innovation is like a marathon, and if you treat your body like a marathon runner you’ll be in great shape to innovate. Get regular physical activity; eat well; get enough sleep; don’t go out and party every night; drink your fluids; don’t get over heated. If you don’t think any of this matters, do the opposite for a week or two and see how it goes with your innovation. And as with innovation climate, geography and environment matter. Train at altitude and sleep in a hypobaric chamber and your mind-body responds differently. Run up hill and you get faster on the hills and likely slower on the flats. Run downhill and your legs hurt. Run in sub-zero temperatures and your lungs burn.

Just as the mind goes with the body, the body follows mind. If you are anxious about your work, you feel a cold pressure in your chest – a clear example where your mental state influences your body. If you are depressed, your body can ache – another example where your mind changes your body. But it’s more than unpleasant body sensations. Your body does far more than move your head place-to-place. Your body is the antenna for the unsaid, and the unsaid is huge part of innovation. Imagine a presentation to your CEO where you describe your one year innovation project that came up empty. When you stop talking and there’s a minute of silent unsaid-ness, your body picks up the signals, not your mind. (You feel the tightness in your chest before you know why.) But if your mind has been monkeying with your body, your crumpled antenna may receive incorrect signals or may transmit them to your brain improperly, and when the CEO asks the hard question, your mind-body is spongy.

And what fuels the mind-body? Why does it get out of bed? Why does it want to do innovation? Dan Pink has it right – when it comes to tasks with high cognitive load, the mind-body is powered by autonomy, the pursuit of mastery, and purpose. For innovation, the mind-body is powered intrinsically, not extrinsically. If your engineers aren’t innovating, it’s because their mind-bodies know there’s no autonomy in the ether. If they’re not taking on the impossible, it’s because they aren’t given time to master its subject matter or the work they’re given is remedial. If they’re doing what they always did, it’s because their antennas aren’t resonating with the purpose behind the innovation work.

When your innovation work isn’t what you’d like it’s not a people problem, it’s an intrinsic motivation problem. Innovators’ mind-bodies desperately want to pole vault out of bed and innovate like nobody’s business, but they feel they have too little control over what they do and how they do it; they want to put all their life force into innovation, but they know (based on where their mind-bodies are and when) they’re not given the tools, time, and training to master their craft; and the rationale you’ve given them – the “WHY” in why they should innovate – is not meaningful to their mind-bodies.

Innovation is a full mind-body sport, and the importance of the body should be elevated. And if there’s one thing to focus on it’s the innovation environment in which the mind-body sits.

Innovators were born to innovate – our mind-bodies don’t have a choice. And if innovation is not happening it’s because extrinsic motivation strategies (carrots and sticks) are blocking the natural power of our intrinsic motivation. It’s time to figure that one out as well.

image credit – Eli Duke

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Mike ShipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.

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