It’s a strange thought, but the potential for innovation may be discoverable in the behavior of bees as they defy gravity and do the seemingly impossible.

Or you might find it in something else that’s apparently unrelated to the problem you’re trying to solve.

Over the course of years and years spent studying the habits, mistakes, processes, and successes of innovation, we’ve found that there’s great power in bringing divergent perspectives together to find new patterns – perspectives that are different from one another, and yet that are analogous on a deep structural level.

Bringing in ideas from analogous fields turns out to be one rich source of radical innovation; the greater the distance between the problem and the analogous field, the greater the inspiration for solutions.

Why are we talking about this, anyway?

Well, glad you’re asking. This is how R.A.T. Lab’s Mrinalini D’Costa frames her 20 years of corporate innovation wisdom; through a series of vivid metaphors and proverbs which tie parallels between curious observations, cultural sources and facets of the world around us – to share ways of nurturing great ideas all the way from brain to business bottom-line.

These stories help innovation teams to prioritize, invest and repeat their way beyond breakthroughs to scalable, widely adopted solutions.

In prep for her workshop at Innov8rs Helsinki, we connected some dots by collating Mrinalini’s learnings together, each of which you can then explore further in her LinkedIn articles.

Elephants can dance if they have to, corporations can innovate if they seriously mean to.

If you really want a big corp to remain relevant and responsive to change, then corporate culture isn’t just a pirouette you perform in order to impress senior business stakeholders and play buzzword bingo. Corporate culture is the entire ballet.

This means cultivating outside-in thinking and behavior by not only allowing customer-centric projects to happen but through building a mindset, a set of incentives and a reward system around knowing your customers better.

This new belief system – which teaches the elephant that it can be quick on its feet – and how it can go about doing so, must dispel the existing myth which is already at the heart of big businesses; that linear measures like ‘in-time’ and ‘on-budget’ are always the best and only metrics of success.

There is also a catch. In a bid to jumpstart this new kind of culture, innovation teams were originally formed as a separate, Silicon valley-style start-up entity comprised of especially smart kids, handpicked by the senior management to start cool experiments in the basement.

The core business, which the innovation team is designed to support, are alienated by this creation of two separate classes.

An innovation system needs to be inclusive, mobile and bring about grassroots change in the following ways:

  • Not only encourage collaboration across the organization to create value and share information but guide teams on how to do so
  • Define metrics for listening, observing, and learning
  • Reward and incentivize employees based on clear definitions of how they can prove the potential of their ideas

Read more: Can Elephants Dance?

Why do we need to redefine what it means to ‘build’ if we want to better solve problems?

This same linear way of executing in business means we’re hardwired to think the ‘build’ in build-measure-learn means prototyping the product itself.

In a process which is so filled with uncertainty, ‘building’ would better be defined as a way of understanding the nature of the problem and its nuances, getting to grips with the risks involved, and setting up the guardrails to validate the idea’s success; in other words – constructing a wall of learnings high enough to get to the next level of progress.

The road to building a hammer starts long before you decide to build a hammer:

  • Exploring the behaviors and challenges around working with handyman tools, in order to shape a hypothesis: drills are heavy, cables are cumbersome and make it hard to move around construction sites
  • Validating the resulting problems which arose from this exploration, by running interviews and experiments to check how highly motivated handymen are to solve them
  • Ideating possible solutions to Joseph the handyman’s tool mobility problem, with some easy and fast initial ideas to A/B test
  • Iterating to evolve and refine the solution which best fits his problem

And so on into product build and launch, with a continuous loop of customer feedback being taken into account all the while.

By skipping those stages of uncertainty pre-build, teams can end up jumping to conclusions about the problem they’re solving, and creating the wrong tool.

To embrace the less-concrete phase before prototyping, enterprises need to encourage teams to experiment in order to learn – rather than to produce something which is immediately marketable.

Read more: Keep your hammer

Don’t believe that we can do our job to break what’s fixed? Just look at how nature breaks its own rules… all the time.

So what happens when you hit a wall, and motivation fails you to keep trying to catalyze organizational change? Consider this.

The laws of physics sometimes just don’t apply: according to everything we know about aviation, bees shouldn’t be able to fly.

Plants shouldn’t be able to grow through concrete.

Humans without arms or legs shouldn’t be able to play football, swim, or surf.

But guess what? They find a way.

Nature has a funny way of creating obstacles for us to overcome; so when leadership won’t support, innovation funds are lacking, and teams are struggling to think outside the box and muster up the creativity to challenge the way things already work – remember you have the power to work with what you have, and do what you can’t.

What’s the formula for this kind of deep-rooted motivation?

Be more like bees: Hand-picking a few people to work in an innovation lab forever isn’t a structured vision, but enabling the core business to be your innovators, to re-purpose their existing resources in a new way, and to cross-pollinate change itself- is.

Read more: Be more bee