Innovation Fatigue: Beware

So innovation fatigue is actually a thing.  Maybe not a clinical business or enterprise diagnosed condition but it’s clearly something.  It’s been written about in books and articles for a few years now and appears to have 2 guises:

  1. That you’re too fatigued to innovate; and
  2. That there’s SO much innovation going on, people – and you included as an innovator – are tired by it all. Mentally checked out on it – albeit temporarily or episodically.

We can probably all relate to the first version.  Demands of busy schedules; front-line working with not a moment to spare; meeting after meeting with work stuff piling up. We simply don’t have the time to innovate and even when we might have a break in the schedule, we don’t have the energy to do anything creative.

Neuroscience will tell us about the state of mind people are in when tired, confused, anxious and even worse fearful.  We have evidence that energy levels impact on the brain and that the brain impacts on our energy levels.

It appears that the last thing we want to do is therefore overload people with even more undue mental processing, or have them feel overwhelmed by an expectation to innovate at times of intense mental focus on priority work, business challenges and other tiring activities.

And yet, innovation and creativity can be such boosts to our energy and our mental ability.  Even learning new things constantly can produce a state of neuroplasticity which is the continued expansion of the hippocampus as we train our brains to be more flexible and absorb more.

So it’s striking a balance and making sure we are aware of such impacts that will help us create an energy force field and not an energy depleting zone when we’re in our innovation mindset.

It’s where we feel and sense that people are fatigued by too much; it’s where we enter into dialogue with people to understand what’s occupying their thoughts and energy, and it’s where we’re considerate and calculated about the deployment of our innovation surges that will help us get the best from our colleagues, peers and partners.

How do we go about this then?

  1. Keep innovation as a special, but regularised activity. Allowing people to feel it’s not some huge marathon of an experience and more bursts of energy, can create a sense that this is like an eagerly awaited workout of the mind.
  2. Allow people to innovate quietly and gently so it’s not just noise or a massive gathering all the time. We all work in different ways and we all process mentally in different ways.  Respecting that difference will help us be more considerate to those needs of others.
  3. Allow spontaneity and not just expect there to be “Thursday afternoon is ideas time” space creation. We are often at our most creative when the conditions aren’t forced upon us or habitualised.
  4. Respect people’s right to not be included in innovation activities all the time, and more let their passion, availability and choice determine their involvement.

And most of all, keep innovation as a force majeure and don’t overplay it.

If we’re constantly expected to innovate, then maybe we’re least likely to actually innovate.