How knowing your environment impacts your innovation process
The innovation process can be daunting, especially when we identify challenges that are frustrating, predictable and common. Rather than sitting with the evidence and discussing solutions, most people shut down and have a pessimistic outlook. This may be because they are unwilling to challenge certain beliefs and assumptions that feel like truth. Instead, they try to find solutions that are influenced by their mindset. Research suggests the role of our environment plays an enormous role in how we develop and use the resources we have.
All of the resources we experience at any given time are created by a natural diversity of other living things, but we can regulate how much we interact with the planet as a whole. When the environment is supported by high carbon dioxide, high levels of hydration, a plentiful food supply, or abundant water, we can experience a period of increasing creativity and innovation. On the other hand, when we have to contend with the natural variation in the amount of material available, we are likely to generate creative solutions that arise more frequently and at the moment. We also find that if environmental scarcity compromises the resources we are available to use, creative solutions can emerge more frequently.
Imagine we have to make a decision for a basic necessity, such as something as a toothbrush, which we are provided with. We have unlimited access to toothbrushes, and many would argue that even without access to toothbrushes, we need to at least brush our teeth. We could choose to invest in a higher quality toothbrush, or choose to invest in a quality toothbrush that is beneficial to the environment. There would be other more-than-necessary uses, of course, which may include inexpensive toothbrushes, but we still could consider the choice and invest in the kind we considered most important, not because we expect others to do so, but because we prefer the particular toothbrush that gives us the best result.
In the context of creativity, we may also have a tendency to evaluate the new answer to a problem as a negative and take the classic “the answer isn’t the problem” approach. We may initially prefer the answer to the problem that we tested because we didn’t find something that we had considered to be a possible solution, or we may find that an added cost to the total solution makes it less valuable. While these can still be good ideas, they may result in a lower level of satisfaction and negative feedback as compared to a solution that uses fewer resources.
We may also identify the natural limits of what is possible when the more ideal solution is not readily available. But when it does exist, we may be willing to use it more easily. When we reach a limit, we may be willing to go beyond it and use what is left in our resources for higher-value uses. This can happen when there is very little in the way of resources, or when there is a high level of difficulty.
For instance, even though natural variation can produce high levels of production with the availability of water, some people cannot escape their tendency to conserve what they can because they have been doing so since childhood. But when a difficult distribution of resources occurs, we may be willing to tolerate this at a higher level of difficulty if it means we gain an advantage by using what’s left in our limited resources. Researchers refer to this approach as “feeling your problems.”
The ultimate goal of this type of thinking is to get the most out of our resources when they are available. Research suggests that people who adopt a proactive mind-set often use it to solve social or political problems when there is a lack of “feeling their problems” in a way that would contribute to solving a problem.
This type of mind-set is characteristic of the “personal optimization” mindset, where we embrace the fact that there are a number of different ways of thinking and doing to create change and improvement. These perspectives can be our primary response when we encounter situations in which there is a lack of agreement or where a seemingly incongruent solution feels to us like the only one that can work.