The Biggest Buzzword in Business is “Innovation” - Let’s Dig Deeper!

3 min read
26 March 2019

Innovation should be at the heart of what we do as leaders. While the notion of innovation is a popular buzzword, in reality, the marketplace is constantly changing, and we need to think about how we can help workers adapt and overcome habits and fear. Understanding how our brain functions can help us be innovative within our established businesses and also equip our young, up-&-coming talent to make sure they are in the right place with the right skills.

Mastering the skills needed for innovation is critical, but many organisations don’t know where to start. The idea of innovation is inspiring, but it’s also extremely vague. We need to make innovation real and identify a process that we can follow to unlock its genuine promise. Leaders need to develop superior skills of innovation requiring imagination and the ability to work and collaborate with others.1

What Does Innovation Look Like in Action?

For many, innovation is synonymous with flashy start-ups and think tanks. In reality, most of the benefits of innovation will be felt in improving existing processes in established businesses. What does this innovation look like in action?

Neuroscience can help answer this question. There are specific areas of the brain where insights, or the aha moment, occur. Brain waves are continuously moving within our brains, produced by electrical impulses from neurons communicating with each other.

There may have been some creative minds who were so far ahead of their time that they were not appreciated, and instead were forgotten before society could catch up.

Dr Elkhonon Goldberg, Cognitive Neuroscientist

Our Brain Waves Change Constantly

Our brain waves change according to what we’re doing and feeling. There are several types of brain waves, from slowest to fastest:

  • Delta waves: Delta waves are generated in dreamless sleep, and this is when healing occurs.
  • Theta waves: These waves are dominant most often in sleep but also during deep meditation. Theta waves are the gateway to learning and memory.
  • Alpha waves: Alpha waves occur during the resting state when our minds are quietly considering thoughts. They aid our mental coordination, mind-body integration, and learning. These waves happen when we take a shower, paint or do crafts, or take the train to work.
  • Beta waves: Beta waves mostly occur while we are awake and when we focus our attention on the outside world and cognitive tasks. These waves are fast, and they are present when we are alert, attentive and engaged in problem-solving or focused mental activity.
  • Gamma waves: These are the fastest brain waves, and they relate to the processing of information at the same time from various brain areas. However, gamma waves are the most subtle of the frequencies, so the mind has to be quiet to access these waves.

Gamma Waves Are Needed for Insight and Innovation

In the Leadership is Upside Down book, we explore how to encourage people to tap into their creative thinking by giving them the time and space needed to promote positive psychology, humour and laughter in the workplace. We can create the conditions people need to be more innovative and to become part of more dynamic workplaces, where people are co-creators instead of automatons following orders.

When our brains are relaxed, we experience primarily alpha waves, which can occur in those “in-between” moments like waiting for the train or taking a shower, or when we spend time doing a craft or activity we enjoy. For gamma waves to emerge, we need to be in this relaxed state. However, no one can relax in a stifling atmosphere rife with tension and stress. These conditions will decrease the likelihood of gamma activity or ‘aha’ moments.2

Innovation is one of the four key competencies in the i4 Neuroleader Model, and fortunately for the future of work, innovation is teachable. When we create the structural, physical and cultural conditions for people to thrive and prosper, we will see innovation in action.

Our article: “The Neurobiology of Imagination - Becoming an Innovative Leader”, will show you how you can stimulate your imagination to increase innovation.

Innovation is more than a spiffy new office staffed with brilliant young people. The future of work requires that we increase innovation in our current business model.


  1. McLennan K. Building Leaders for the Imagination Age: The Case for the i4 Model.  About my Brain Institute. 2016;1. [White Paper].
  2. Damiano S, Cubeiro JC, de Haas T. Leadership is Upside Down: The i4 Neuroleader Revolution. About my Brain Institute. 2014.

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