It is relatively easy to see how play can generate fabulous new ideas, but what is less obvious is the critical role of play in giving those ideas a chance at life against some very serious odds. Innovation is change, and change sends many of us running for cover—for good reason. Change activates our survival instincts and is at least partly responsible for our tendency toward inertia, and inertia, again is a serious barrier to innovation.
Experts agree that the critical stage of innovation is implementation. Implementation is where the rubber meets the road. It requires us to change our behavior, and changing behavior is not only an intellectual but also an emotional challenge. It also requires us to step into the unknown. But perhaps the greatest challenge is that it requires us to overcome inertia, and that is something that humans are hardwired to resist. That hardwiring is key to understanding how inertia works and what its function is.
The human brain wants to say where it is, in the comfort zone. If we stay in our comfort zone, we don’t have to struggle to survive. We minimize the risk to our survival by staying where we know we are safe. I often explain to my MBA students that the reason they take the same seat in class every week, and the reason we lay our towels in the same area of the beach every summer weekend, is that we are, at our core, instinctual animals. Once we have chosen a seat and made it through class safely without being attacked, the part of our brain responsible for our survival tells us that our best option is to repeat that behavior, because in a way it is the most economical use of our energy. As part of its strategy for survival, our brain wants to conserve energy, so once we sit in a particular spot and know that it’s safe, we will subconsciously want to sit there every time and avoid having to reevaluate the safety of a new spot.
Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.