There’s a maxim among pub pool players that the consumption of beer will improve your game, until you reach a tipping point whereby the alcohol flooding your bloodstream diminishes your mastery of the cue.
Funnily enough, it’s not just an urban myth. While The Watsonia Bugle cheekily reports an empirically generated (but alas, fictional) bell curve, the effect of ethanol-induced relaxation and confidence on the players of time-rich sports has some actual science underpinning it.
I recognise a similar pattern in the field of corporate innovation. Not with lager (lol!) but with another variable: responsibility.
In a nutshell, I feel that anyone who’s expected to innovate needs to own a portfolio in which to do it. Armed with both the opportunity and the authority to make design decisions inside a ringfence, new ideas can be tried and tested quickly and efficiently without the myriad barriers that arise when you don’t have that power.
However, just like a pool player who’s overimbibed, someone who has too much responsibility thrust upon them will inevitably feel their pioneering spirit fade away. Preoccupied with the busyness of tasks and the pressure of deliverables, the would-be innovator has neither the appetite nor the headspace for trying anything new. His or her focus is firmly on survival.
The implication for business is clear. If you want to shift innovation from aspiration to action, give your people enough responsibility to get their hands dirty and achieve something real, but not so much that they lose sight of the end game.
The apex of innovation lies in the balance.