Elastic Thinking and Innovation

Innovation has always been imperative to humanity’s growth and survival (see growing crops, building shelter, written language, etc.), and we’re receiving messages all over the place that innovation is more important than ever in this current age of rapid technological advancement  and globalization. As industries, services, products, and communication change at an accelerated pace, we’ll need to get better at changing along with them to keep up.  


Whether that sounds overwhelming or exciting to you, I’ve got good news: Human beings are hard-wired for innovation.  We possess the ability to use our rational minds and emotional responses to create new ways of doing things. When we bump up against people, situations, or objects that get us stuck we eventually find a way to move through or around the obstacles.  When we pose or are asked questions, we are capable of producing answers. When we are presented with a puzzle, we can solve it.  

While innovating comes naturally to people of all ages and cultures, there are skills inherent in it that you can learn about and increase your mastery of.  One of these skills is described by theoretical physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow as “elastic thinking” which he explains is

“the capacity to let go of comfortable ideas and become accustomed to ambiguity and contradiction; the capability to rise above conventional mind-sets and to reframe the questions we ask; the ability to abandon our ingrained assumptions and open ourselves to new paradigms; the propensity to rely on imagination as much as on logic and to generate and integrate a wide variety of ideas; and the willingness to experiment and be tolerant of failure.”

The folks over at Farnam Street have produced an informative and intuitive article summarizing some of the major ideas in Mlodinow’s book Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World.  It offers a brief analysis of his theories around why elastic thinking is necessary, and how it leads to increased success in problem solving, making decisions, and innovating.  It also offers immediately actionable advice on how to develop it.  

If you’re interested in learning more, please set aside at least 9 minutes of your time to read it (plus more if you get inspired by thought-provoking material and want to play around with it in your mind).  

Click here to read the article on Farnam Street’s blog.

Side Dish

Sometimes the main course just isn’t enough – find links here to content that rounds out the themes explored in this week’s article.

Article, 3 minute read

4 Principles for Building Trust in a VUCA World

If innovation is an organizational buzzword, living in a VUCA world is the reason why we need it.  

VUCA is an acronym that has come to describe the nature of life and business in our modern times: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.  Leadership in a VUCA world differs from traditional leadership models of the past; staying agile and relevant in it requires more humility, collaboration, flexibility, and creativity. 

This article by Randy Conley comes at the VUCA world through the lens of trust, an important element on any team. It’s a great introduction to the VUCA concept, and includes a link to an informative Forbes article that breaks down the basics of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.  


Article with Worksheet, 2 minute read

Failure Analysis Checklist

If you are going to innovate, you are going to fail.  It’s a necessary and unavoidable part of any creative journey that leads to success.  Turning failures into opportunities for growth and learning is a cherished past-time for people who achieve their goals – make it yours, too, with this helpful worksheet from the inventive minds behind SYPartners “Unstuck” series.  It offers an incredible pep talk for befriending failure, along with advice and thoughtful questions to help you analyze where things went off the rails so you can get back on them to start moving forward again.  



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