Incubation and disruption in the hunt for creative business ideas



I was reading an interesting article on tech crunch last night about Launch48, an event that invites teams to come together to launch a new web business in 48 hours (even if the name is a bit like the Ronseal ads – it does what it says on the tin). It got me thinking about how entrepreneurs and business leaders in general come up with their ideas.

The world of psychology has tried to answer the question of where innovation and inspiration come from over the years with a variety of solutions suggested, none of which can really claim to fully account for it. But I think we can learn from some of their work. One early writer on this subject was Graham Wallas who describes in his book Art of Thought, a number of stages people must go through in order to come up with their creative idea.

graham wallas

According to Wallas, creativity is a product of the right preparation, a period of incubation (or in other words doing nothing) before the illumination of your brilliant idea pops into your head, and then finally a period of verification where you check the idea actually solves the problem or issue.

So what can those of us in business hunting for creative ideas, learn from Wallas’ 90 year old musings? Well possibly the most relevant section is the concept that we need to let ideas incubate untouched in our subconscious in order to produce the best creativity.

In a busy work environment it can be hard to find the space or time to allow for incubation.  But you only need to think about how many times you’ve spent a frustrated hour or two staring at a computer or a blank piece of paper, only to find the answer magically pops into your mind later on that evening on the bus home.

In a similar vein Scott Anthony argues on his Harvard Business Review blog, that disruption is vital to allow business leaders to reinvent and transform themselves, in order to keep their business fresh. 

A real life example of using this principle can be found in the writing of WPP global head of planning Jon Steel. In his book perfect pitch, he describes how even in the middle of pulling together work for a huge pitch, he would still advocate leaving the office for the afternoon after a few hours brainstorming, to take him team off to do something completely different like going to watch a socks game, where no-one could talk about work. Working in an industry that sells creative ideas as its product, Steel saw the break in brainstorming as an important step.      

Jon Steel

Whether the entrepreneurs taking part in this weekend’s Launch48 got their inspiration from something at their work, in their home or the wider environment, disruptions (or incubation as Wallis called it) may have played a vital role in their creative thinking process.

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