Human beings hate ‘not knowing’, yet no innovation ever begins with ‘knowing’, Dr Beau Lotto told a lecture hosted at the Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed on Monday, in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
During the course of his lecture, entitled 'The Science of Innovation: Becoming Naturally Adaptable' and hosted at Al Bateen Palace in Abu Dhabi, Dr Lotto went on to link innovation with tolerance.
"Innovation begins with not knowing - with a question, not an answer, - with challenging what one assumes to be true, said Dr. Lotto, a renowned neuroscientist and author of the 2017 bestseller, Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently.
He added that it was a happy coincidence that it was the Year of Tolerance in the UAE, which also happened to be a leader in innovation.
The lecture was also attended by H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region;H.H. Sheikh Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Ruler’s Representative in Al Ain Region;H.H. Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation;H.H. Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior;H.H. Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chief of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's Court;H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation;H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Adviser to the UAE President; Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance; H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan; Sheikhs, diplomats and dignitaries.
"Humanity was facing tremendous challenges right now and our world was becoming increasingly unpredictable as we become even more inter-connected," Dr. Lotto noted, pointing out that man has historically dreaded uncertainty. He said ironically uncertainty was the only place we could go if we’re ever going to see differently. And that’s why creativity, seeing differently, always begins with a question: why? One’s success is defined by the quality of the question that one asks. But since the brain hates uncertainty, most organisations are designed to eliminate them.
According to Dr. Lotto, innovation has two sides: creativity and efficiency. "But, our society focuses almost exclusively on efficiency and companies are constantly trying to get more for less. This would be a great idea but for the fact that the world changes. So too, then, must we. In nature, the most successful systems are the most adaptable. Thus, human systems need to be both efficient and creative. Given that creativity is essential for survival, why is it so difficult?"
Dr Lotto, the Founder and CEO of the Lab of Misfits studio, said the answer lies in understanding how and why we see what we see.
Perceptual neuroscience, he explained, teaches us that it is impossible to grasp reality and that information by itself is meaningless and without inherent value.
"Millions of years ago, man learnt to see only what he needed to see in order to survive and the brain did not evolve to see the world as it is. We think we see the world as it is but are mistaken. What we see is subjective and everything we know is filtered by each individual’s past experience. The brain instead evolved to see the world the way it was useful to see in the past. Not seeing reality is essential to our ability to adapt."
"As our brains evolved toward certainty," he argued, "we simultaneously evolved away from creativity, which asks us to question our assumptions. That is the only way to see differently."
"Contrary to popular perception, creativity is not a chaotic and wild force. The brain cannot make great leaps, it can only move linearly through mental possibilities."
He supported this point by an example.
"When a creative person forges a connection between two things that are, to our minds, far apart, he has merely moved through steps that are invisible to us - it is a highly logical process and there is nothing particularly ‘creative’ about creativity."
For Dr. Lotto, questions are the mediators of change.
Change is often essential for success but is the most feared of human activities," he explained.
"Everything we do and see are reflexive responses grounded in assumptions. Which means the roots of creativity reside less in spontaneous inspiration, and more in the deeply human qualities of courage and humility, which is essential for tolerance, which he defined as the ability to sit with differences as a step towards openness. Using the principles by which the brain sees, we can apply these principles to enable individuals and organisations to see differently and in doing so, thrive in uncertainty."
Asking what then, are the principles that enable us to thrive in uncertainty, Dr. Lotto explained that there are only three leadership qualities that can help us thrive, and correlate with success: leading by example, admitting one’s mistakes and being able to recognise the abilities of others.
"From the perspective of behavioural neuroscience, the best leaders are defined by how they lead others into uncertainty."
Dr Lotto said emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality have tremendous positive potential and can make our processes more efficient.
He called them useful, but said the great, transformative technologies are those that make the invisible visible and enable us to see, experience and imagine something that we never knew existed such as the telescope, the microscope, the functional MRI (fMRI), and the humble sail.
"The neuroscientist believes that the future entails shaking ourselves up, awakening from habitual thought patterns and rejecting conventional wisdom. It is our ability to defy conformity that has triggered nearly every advance in human progress. The next big innovation, he said, is not technology but a new way of seeing and perceiving."
In conclusion, he said: ''If we want to create the next great tech innovation, we have to be able to adapt to a way of being that enables us to embrace uncertainty.''