Growing ideas beyond imagination
Have you ever wondered about ideas? What are they? Where do they come from and where do they go? Why do we love some ideas and hate others? Why is it so hard to realize new and revolutionary ideas? How can we have better ideas and get more out of them in a sustainable and meaningful way? How can we stop premature elimination of potential game-changing ideas?
Welcome to an idea revolution. As activists, we want more inspiring ideas to sprout and spread. We want all people to have access to ingenious inventions and benefit from them. We want exclusive solutions to include the many. We want to find solutions to the most vicious problems. We want to change the world by changing the way we work with the ideas about it. That’s why we started to grow ideas beyond imagination.
What we have discovered is a link between the ideas we have and the humans we are — and become. There is a growing gap between the ambitions of a sustainable tomorrow and the solutions of today. Innovation must be humanized, socialized, and globalized.
So we decided to develop an experimental framework for growing ideas beyond imagination, while simultaneously integrating idea development and human transformation. The hope is to contribute to creating essential and sustainable value for humans, businesses and society.
It all started with an insight: An idea is an idea. Nothing more, nothing less. What becomes of the idea depends on the people around it and the state in which they are. From the first time an idea appears as a thought in the mind to the final result, we humans have a strong influence on it. An idea can only unfold as much as the brains and minds involved can deal with.
Quickly after the first insight came another: If we want to grow ideas beyond imagination, we must grow ourselves. It’s not only about fitting the idea to the conditions. It’s about fitting the conditions to the idea. The human state must at any time match the idea phase. Otherwise, we risk missing the idea or losing ourselves in the process. By integrating idea development and human transformation, the value creation can become more balanced and holistic.
Basically, an idea is a representation of what is and what is not, has been or could be. We experience ideas as thoughts or mental content. They can be simple and plain, or complex and elaborated. The process of developing ideas spans from potentiality to actuality. It begins with a thought and ends with a product, service or transformation. There is a progression from the core idea to the integrated experience.
Many things can trigger an idea process; an unsolved problem, an unfulfilled dream, a curious question or a random event. The process of encountering, interpreting and understanding ideas is called ideation. It’s the mental, emotional or spiritual realization of the idea. How we advance, manifest and utilize the ideas is called innovation. It’s the physical, practical and commercial realization of the idea.
Generally in business, there has been more focus on innovation than ideation. We want to create results, and prefer detectable and manageable processes. This means we spend most of our time in known territory in search of evident answers to familiar questions. The conditioning is so strong that we can’t find a way out of the box even when it is needed, or we want to. We can’t access new and wild ideas — and we can’t appreciate them neither.
To experiment beyond imagination, you must prepare yourself to meet ideas where they are, as they are. In addition, you must develop skills that match the specific idea phases and enables you to work on the terms of the idea, so to speak. This learning process can change who you are and bring you closer to what you want to be. Which to me looks like human transformation.
The inspiration comes from Otto Scharmer's Theory U. Opening your mind to new information leads you to perceive more opportunities. Opening your heart to new connections lets you conceive all the possibilities associated with the idea. Opening your will and letting go of your ego gives you access to the infinite potential — allowing you to lead from the future as it emerges.
It's a mental shift that can be performed in an instant if you know how. Getting there is a transformational journey for most people. To open your mind, you learn to turn down the voice of judgment. To open your heart, you learn to release yourself from emotional attachment and cognitive biases. To open your will, you learn to free yourself from the inner resistance of limiting beliefs. Developing innervative powers and practices will take you there.
To grow ideas beyond imagination, you must reconnect your brain and reset your mind. This is called innervation, the mindful and brain-friendly approach to realizing what you want. The mindful approach helps you become fully aware of what you want, and the brain-friendly approach makes it happen. The aim is to create the best possible conditions for the experience and behavior you want to manifest.
Three innervative powers — curiosity, empathy, and intuition — are related to the Theory U states of open mind, open heart and open will, respectively. Each opening corresponds to the activation of a power. The more you use these powers, and the more your ego disappears, the more space you allow for fresh new ideas to arrive and thrive.
Three innervative practices — spacing, framing and staging — are used to support and advance the idea development process. Spacing gives access to the unknown through exploration and meditation. Framing connects to the emerging future by building a nested choice architecture around the idea development. Staging uses the interaction between concept and context to integrate the idea into the world.
Innovation and innervation are complementary. Innovation develops ideas, innervation transforms humans. If we innervated more, we would get more inspired ideas, more considered choices and more meaningful actions. We would be happier, both with the results and the way we are getting them. Most importantly, ideas beyond imagination would contribute to the holistic value creation we so desperately need.
Developing ideas and transforming humans in the same setting is not a simple task. We must move from closed mind to open will, from critical thinking to creative thinking to no thinking at all. We must meet ideas as they are to discover their potential. This demands space. Ideas must be cultivated before they are brought into the open fields. This takes time. When introduced to the world, the ideas need attention to unfold their full potential and give back to the system.
How is it done? We create a zonal framework where ideas and humans meet only when they are both ready. Imagine this: At one end of the framework, worthwhile problems and beautiful dreams are prepared for the journey of idea development. At the other end, people are onboarded to the human transformation journey. The far end of the human journey is where potential ideas are waiting to be captivated. From here, the ideas will move to other zones to be cultivated and later integrated with the outside world.
The experimental framework
The experimental framework beyond imagination is designed to grow and protect ideas, while preparing humans to welcome and integrate them. There are three zones. The red zone gives access to ideas we never thought possible. The green zone opens to ideas that resonate with us. The blue zone welcomes ideas that are considered logical, reasonable and relevant.
The ideas are being developed by answering different questions in the zones. Red zone: What needs to change in me or in the world for this idea to unfold? Green zone: What needs to change around the idea to fit humans? Blue zone: What is needed to fully integrate the idea with the world?
The red zone
The purpose of the red zone is to receive new ideas and get to know them, thereby turning potentiality into possibility. The task is to spot, catch and embrace ideas without resistance from existing beliefs. In Theory U terms, you access the idea with an open will and an I-in-now source of attention. You surrender to what is, prepared to challenge any outdated world view.
The logic of the red zone is to give space. It’s like being on a photo safari. Watch and shoot, but don’t kill or touch. Like an anthropologist, you observe without interfering. Ideas are treated for what they are — raw, unexplored possibilities. Your main interest is what emerges.
The trick is to expand the awareness from the known to the unknown. Ideally, you combine the finders’ mindset of an artist with the effortless observation of a meditator. Non-ordinary states of consciousness can be induced in many ways — from meditation, yoga, dancing and chanting to using psychoactive drugs.
To spot ideas, you must be present where they are. And you must have a way to notice when an idea is taking form. The best state to be in is alert awareness, but often ideas appear out of nowhere when you least expect it.
Your job is to watch for idea potential. It reveals itself in many ways: a hunch, a mental image, an inner voice, a tingling sensation in the body, a sudden insight, an unexpected event, and so on. Be around receiving what’s arriving. Maybe you need to tune into subtler signals. For instance, by lowering the frequency of your brain waves. Don’t search, as it will keep you in the known. Instead, start finding, as Picasso suggested.
When you have spotted an idea, you may want to capture it. Take a snapshot, draw it, write it down, or in another way capture it. Don’t interpret, don’t conclude. What you see in the idea is strictly personal. It’s a projection of your lived past into a potential future. An idea is an idea, but who is the catcher?
To keep the freshness of the newly formed ideas, you must project less and inspect more. This means you reduce the transfer of associations to the idea, and move your focus from the surface to the source, the deeper meaning and the larger context. The essence speaks to you in symbolic ways that easily can be ignored or not detected at all.
Stay in flow. Maybe you have thoughts, but don’t attempt to think. You are not here to understand a vision, but to undertake a mission. If you think too much, you will start to predict and build expectations. Don’t dominate with your knowledge. Instead, notice what in the idea resonates with what in you.
Idea spotting and idea catching is intuitive — therefore more of a creative than an analytical exercise. For the rational mind, the idea may appear strange, which by the way is a sign of novelty and originality. To embrace the idea fully, you must get not only the rational mind, but yourself out of the way. Don’t let a mismatching ego misguide you.
New ideas are only strange if you think they are. Instead of resisting what is, go with the effortless. Ideas will change as you allow yourself to move. The most fragile of the ideas may disappear or dissolve before you get a change to know them. Don’t be alarmed if an idea doesn’t stick. It will come back one way or another. Conversely, don't be so attached to an idea it takes control of you. The idea came to you, you adopted it. Don’t let it possess you.
The green zone
The purpose of the green zone is to conceive ideas and get them to grow, thereby turning possibility into opportunity. The task is to protect, nurture and potter ideas without interference from biased cognition and emotional attachment. In Theory U terms, you meet the idea with an open heart and an I-in-you source of attention.
The logic of the green zone is to give time. Patience is the true growth factor. Most work in the green zone looks like creative hacks and design sprints. Designers, engineers and psychologists will introduce the idea to a simulator or incubator, where it will transform into a concept, prototype, or minimal viable product. The focus is on finding out what works.
To operate in the green zone, you are cleared for attachment to any story about the past or the future. You challenge biases and personal preferences as they surface, and you know how to mitigate or compensate for them. You go with what truly resonates, not what feels familiar and comfortable.
The idea arrives from the red zone as a known possibility. Now it’s up to people in the green zone to crack the idea code. Often the ideas are mere hunches and vague visions without a strong core and clear intention. During this work, it can be necessary to hack into the defense mode of the system to understand what is working against the idea.
Some ideas are so contagious or harmful to the prevailing logic that they must be quarantined until they can be converted into less dangerous concepts. Other ideas are too weak or too weird to survive an attack from the mental, cultural or structural immune system. Perhaps these ideas are enrolled in a wild idea protection program. Perhaps they simply wait until systemic tolerance is established.
Ideas feed on attention and intention. The higher the ambitions, the better the conditions for growth must be. By incubating with clear intentions and sound conditions, there doesn’t have to be much regulation or correction. Time is a critical factor in nurturing ideas, as natural growth cannot be forced without consequences.
We want ideas to outgrow expectations, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Therefore, we proliferate the idea. Identical seeds are planted in different environments, the same idea is developed under different circumstances. During the growth phase, we carefully balance between isolation and interaction, sprinting and pausing, and so on.
Growing ideas is about injecting information, not projecting it. We say the idea is growing, but it is our understanding and appreciation of it that actually improves. The path from the core idea to the extended idea is taken in small insights rather than giant leaps.
With the intention of unleashing the full idea potential, scalability and circularity are in question. How will the idea fit into the human world? The process from first thought to final concept changes the idea — not only in form, but in content. What the idea eventually turns into will be the result of the interaction between concept and context.
As the idea grows, more and more learning is embedded in the idea. By the end of the day, what is perceived is not the core idea, but the added layers. Learning happens in growing circles, and the trajectory of idea development is never linear and orderly. Construction stimulates the idea to evolve in desired directions within defined limits. Improvisation allows the idea to emerge and transcend beyond limits and expectations.
The crossing from green zone to blue zone is for ideas that have turned into concrete opportunities. The finest are moved to the next zone, while the rest are left for further growth, more learning or temporary storage.
The blue zone
The purpose of the blue zone is to perceive ideas and get them to show, thereby turning opportunity into actuality. The task is to test, sort and spin ideas without disturbance from untimed and unconscious judgment. In Theory U terms, you meet the idea with an open mind and an I-in-it source of attention. This takes some effort, as the natural tendency in the blue zone is to criticize from a closed mind and an I-in-me source of attention.
The logic of the blue zone is to give back. You want to learn and earn from the idea. It’s feedback and payback time. You want a return on engagement and investment. Like a scientist, you examine whether a carefully formulated hypothesis is true or false. Like a strategist, you find the most direct way to success. Like an economist, you make sure both people and planet will profit.
The blue zone is the test center, but also the launch pad and exit area for mature ideas ready to integrate with what resonates. To work here, you are cleared for the urge to react viscerally and unreflected. You are eager to challenge existing knowledge and integrate new game-changing patterns.
When the idea arrives from the green zone, it is ready to be tested in full scale. It’s time to know which of the opportunities can be turned into actuality. The approach to testing is rigorous, curious and cautious. It’s not about shooting down hopeless ideas, but about creating the conditions for hopeful ideas to fly.
You move from opportunity to actually not by speculation and discussion, but by directing and evaluating experiments in live settings. The calculation and simulation time is over. Now focus is on piloting and starting up with all the feedback and learning loops required.
At this stage in the idea development process, focus moves to sustainability and integrability. Does the idea fit into the doughnut economics model with its social foundation and ecological ceiling? Can the idea be integrated in the ecosystem as a value creating part?
To balance the sorting process, we account for not only external facts and intellectual analyses, but also the human tendency to be pre-judgmental, cognitively biased, emotionally attached and limited in our beliefs. This calls for an open dialogue in groups of high diversity and strong inclusion.
The known and grown idea is ready to show why it has been born and raised. The idea team (described in the following) gathers to make the final decisions and adjustments. What’s the breaking story? How will the idea be introduced to those not already engaged? How will they be onboarded to the idea and the associated universe? Is there an existing infrastructure in which the idea is easily adapted?
Note: The spinning of ideas from the experimental framework can take place in all three zones. Early idea-spins are for the risk takers and entrepreneurs. Late idea-spins are more attractive to established businesses and institutions with a widespread network and global presence.
The beyond team
The experimental framework combines many diverse aspects: explorative, meditative, receptive, conceptive, perceptive, analytical, cooperative, productive, practical, differential and integrative. This requires a group of people with different personalities and backgrounds to work together. Being part of such a group in itself will change.
The beyond team has a set of roles related to the idea development journey: ideator, guard, cultivator, critic, integrator, sixth member and flow master. The ideator is in charge of the activities in the red zone, the cultivator in the green zone, and the integrator in the blue zone. The guard ensures the core idea is safe and sound, while the critic is responsible for shaping the extended idea sharply and strongly.
Included in the beyond team is the sixth member. This is the joker who plays ad hoc roles when needed. It can be as a representative of the owner, sponsor or client. It can also be as an observer, able to give constructive feedback about the process and progress.
The last member of the beyond team is the flow master, in charge of both the inner mental-emotional flow and outer physical-virtual flow of information. This person is trained in psychological and social aspects of change, process design and facilitation. Other roles related to the human transformation journey are innervator, personal mentor, and team coach.
The birth of a maybe star
An idea starts from nothing and can become everything. It is a potential. Reality in the making. For the idea to appear in the world, someone must have it. It could be you. Suddenly, the idea is there. Sometimes you notice it, most often not. You are too busy or too focused on other ideas. Soon it’s gone without your knowing — the fate of almost all ideas.
What more is, if the idea gains awareness and attracts our attention, chances are it will be rejected immediately as irrelevant or disturbing. Which it is not — it’s just an idea. What causes us to judge it so hard and so fast is a projection of other ideas we already have. We don’t even give the newborn a chance. That’s why ideas stay as potentials. The maybe stars are never born. Which is a shame, as the world needs new ideas so badly.
The experimental framework for growing ideas beyond imagination is an idea not yet integrated. In this phase, we invite playmates, partners and customers to board. The idea needs as many fans and facilitators as possible. Here lies the potential; now the idea is born and raised, how will it become a star?