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Inflexion Point, Feb 2020

By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist

Welcome back to Inflexion Point, the monthly on the interesting and insightful from the domains of creativity, innovation, design, and business.

In this edition, I present to you cases when individuals are more innovative than teams, the science of sleep and creativity, why geography is destiny when it comes to innovation, why AI lacks the common sense to understand human language, and five cognitive biases that you must overcome to start on your own. 
Hope you find it useful. 
Innovation is often considered as a team sport. But are individuals always inferior to teams? A careful study of 1,603,970 utility patents and 192,265 design patents filed between 1985 and 2009 at the USPTO reveal that utility patents are much more likely to come through team efforts than design patents. This difference could be explained by the modularity of an invention. If an invention can be broken down into components and a division of scientific labor could happen, the team is more effective, but in design patents, often an individual is far more capable of creating, iterating and correcting. (Source: HBR)
 
Does sleep makes you more creative? Science says yes. Sleep, especially the periods of REM (rapid eye movement) unleash greater levels of creativity and this happens because of lowered inhibitions which allows brain to make more fluid connections. Dreams are like thinking in a different biochemical state where the brain thinks more visually and intuitively. Deep sleep allows prefrontal cortex to relax and give way to more of a right brain thinking, which typically remains inhibited during awake time. The increased levels of cortisol and dopamine in the brain, during sleep, positively influences creativity. So, to be creative, at least sleep well. (Source: Time)
What makes Silicon Valley, the 50 mile corridor between San Jose and San Francisco the most innovative place in the world and that too for such a long time? The short answer could be increasing returns on investment and first-mover advantage, but the puzzle remains that the location remains undisputed, even with a growing threat from India and China, and several other innovation hotspots. When it comes to generation and sharing of ideas, geography hasn’t yet become history and physical proximity plays a very important role. So be careful in planting your next research setup. You may well want to tap into a wellspring of ideas and not an island. (Source: The New York Times) 
 
Innovative companies are not that way only because of its talent, but a lot is to do with its routines, processes and practices, especially in managing talent. In this piece, I identify five rather counterintuitive practices that leading innovators exhibit — they strive for sub-optimal talent utilization, encourage internal competition and even duplication of efforts, manage a loose coupling between top-down and bottom-up goals, don’t push everyone to work in teams, and maintain a weak short-term memory. Often our prevalent HR practices aim at achieving predictability and efficiency at the cost of adaptability and creativity. (Source: People Matters)
 
The conventional wisdom says that the younger the better when it comes to creativity; however, the recent research on this topic suggests that there are two peaks in our creativity – one in 20s and another in 50s. The distinction is that if you are involved in a conceptual work, in the domains of science or arts, you are most likely to hit your groundbreaking idea early in your career, whereas if your work involves experiments and building on the knowledge of others, you are more likely to make your greatest contribution later, say around late 40s or early 50s. The key, however, is to be at the task at all times. (Source: Psychology Today)
How accurate is a text reading and writing AI application, such as a chatbot or a voice-assistance application which is based on natural language processing techniques? Research suggests that these techniques are far from reliable as they lack common sense. It’s not just the sentence formation or the grammar in question, but a semantic intelligence that sets humans apart and machines have a long way to catch. In one experiment, researchers demonstrate that accuracy of AI is just about 54% as against 94% for a series of sentences which are different in only one word, and hence entirely different meanings. (Source: MIT Tech Review)
 
Entrepreneurs, just like normal beings, are prone to cognitive errors, except that the cost of such errors is often huge. The very spirit of starting something on own stems from a strong bias towards one’s own abilities against the odds, and at every moment, the entrepreneur take a turn towards the uncertain. In this piece, I identify five cardinal biases that, if kept unchecked, might jeopardise your entrepreneurial ambitions — overconfidence bias, fundamental attribution error, confirmation bias, sunk-cost fallacy, and bandwagon effect. Of these, I reckon the sunk-cost fallacy is the most blinding. (Source: Inc 42)
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