Convergent Innovation

Last week I posted the first episode of my podcast in a very long time. It's a big moment for me because, when I began the show I didn't really know what I wanted to do with it. Now I do and with my new co-hosts I even have a format of sorts.

I realised that a moment like this called for some new podcast artwork and for some time I've been searching for a way to visualise what Hard Not Complicated means. For a while I had this rather fun loop-de-loop graphic but it just didn't work. Then, last week, I found out about enso.

Actually, I should say less that I found out about enso, I already knew about them to a degree. It's just that it became clear to me how neatly this symbol, ancient and culturally powerful, aligned with what Hard Not Complicated is all about.

An enso is a symbol associated with Zen Buddhism which is drawn in a single stroke with ink and a brush. It connects with the ideas of impermanence, imperfection, and incompleteness, especially in the broken form where the ends do not meet.

When I began Sabre Tooth Panda, it wasn't a coaching company. I developed my approach and philosophy and then I realised that what I was doing was coaching! Similarly, I didn't intend to design a company that is so deeply connected with eastern philosophies. But, the more I develop Hard Not Complicated and the more I think about how Sabre Tooth Panda is different, the more I notice these ideas seeping through.

Just as an enso can never be perfect, the Hard Not Complicated approach is based on the idea that building a strong relationship with creativity is an ongoing process, not something you begin and end with a three day workshop or by completing a set of coursework.

Similarly I try to stay clear of the idea that there is one correct way to have that strong relationship with creativity. While many approaches to boosting creativity in the workplace seem to want to teach standards and processes, the Hard Not Complicated method focuses on enabling teams and individuals to develop their own, organic relationship, seeking out the tools and techniques that support their own preferences after the fact, rather than teaching tools and techniques and requiring the person to adapt to the tool.

I could list endlessly the ways in which my approach to helping people get creative seems to conform to all manner of ideas steeped in ancient and modern learning, but that's not my point here. What I am more interested in is what I'm calling Convergent Innovation.

You may have heard of convergent evolution. This is the process by which two animals with no recent evolutionary connection end up with very similar appearances. The most commonly noticed one is the shark and the dolphin.

There are huge differences between sharks and dolphins but considering that one is a mammal and one is a fish it's interesting to note how similar they are in some of their more visible features. This is despite the fact that they share no common ancestor for billions of years.

The explanation is simple: when you have the same problems to solve you are likely to end up with similar solutions. Which brings me back to Convergent Innovation.

The creative process is as much a journey of discovery as it is of invention, despite the popular out-of-nowhere myth of creativity. When I realised that my challenge was less to do with creativity itself but more to do with how people learn, our habits and how they form, our emotional responses to various things such as failure or difference, our attitudes towards ourselves and the outside world, it became clear to me that I my creative journey could be greatly enhanced by following in the footsteps of others who have faced this same challenge.

The Not Invented Here Syndrome is one of those horrible and entirely avoidable problems in creativity. But the concept of Convergent Innovation should put our minds at ease. After all, if the most creative force in nature, evolution, can share ideas, then why can't we?


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