The Trinity of Innovation

In my previous post, I listed the four traits of creative individuals and compared these with the four motivations of the Buddhist ‘Hero of Enlightened Mind’. But, as Robert McKee said, we need more than motivation and hope, if we want to drive continuous change in our lives. 

To consciously effect lasting change, creative heroes must also absolutely have in their backpack a set of three fundamental qualities - or if they don't possess them at the outset, they must be able to find and collect them, like the characters in the original Wizard of Oz movie, or avatars in the video game Diablo.

These are the 3 qualities Heroes of Innovation need to possess:

  1. A good intellect or access to specialised knowledge. This gives a coincident ability to discover and formulate new problems no one else has seen. This is a sense of the DOMAIN.
  2. Knowledge of how a wider group of people thinks - and the intention to contribute to their society, despite obstacles from peers and circumstances. This is a sense of the FIELD.
  3. A personal value system that enables good decision-making, both about rule-based problems and social circumstances.  This is a sense of one's PERSON.

These qualities of successful innovators have been observed repeatedly, in rigorous scientific research - especially in the work of Mihalyi Csikzentimihalyi, famous researcher on creativity and author of 'Flow : The Psychology of Happiness'.

That is not altogether surprising, since they are a kind of trilogy of 'concerns of the mind' that have been acknowledged to exist since the philosopher Aristotle first pointed them out. 

Modern philosophers say the 3 mental concerns of each human being generally include:

  1. cognitive ability - the act of making sense
  2. emotional ability - the act of feeling 
  3. conation - the intention to act on what is known. 

Aristotle called these simply ‘Thinking, Feeling and Desire’.  

In order to understand these qualities more deeply, I recently compare the makeup of 40 different trinities, which are defined in sources as diverse as fairytales and legends, comic books, philosophy, marketing models, design thinking, quality assurance, life coaching, the human nervous system, hormonal pathways, attachment theories, the French motto and the US declaration of Independence.

And what I found was amazing. It appears that the ‘Rule of Threes’ is not just a literary artifice to make stories more interesting, but a fundamental, universal principle of creation. 

Throughout all trinities, there is a commonality of purpose, that goes beyond mere ‘threeness’. 

The easiest way to understand it, is to believe what all religions tell us about the first appearance of ‘An Ideal All’ eg. God from a spacetime where we cannot perceived it [or, if we can, then we cannot describe it]. Religions say that because we cannot see, hear, feel and understand 'The Ideal All' directly, rather than indirectly, The All divides into 3 fundamental, interacting parts, which define the simplest division of spacetime that can be recognised and understood by us. These co-evolve as they emanate from the origin, as an indivisible Ecosystem.

The three coincident parts that constitute such a Trinity are:

  • A Principle of Law or Structure
  • A Principle of Society, Action and Application
  • A Principle of Leadership, Context and Vision

Both Csikzsentimihalyi's and my Phd research shows that we need to take account of this trinity, if we wish to to make our innovation historically important. How? Well, the simplest way to make logical sense of it is to draw on Hegel’s famous principle of Dialectic; ‘Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis’. In that case, the Law is the thesis, the Society is the antithesis and the Leader provides synthesis.

To explore more deeply let us think analogically, in a story. And we will find these three divisions of space are intrinsic to the structure of every ancient and modern organisation on earth. Every human society has these three parts [and animal groups do too], for if they don’t, they fall apart. I draw the following thought-experiment from a rough understanding of Buddhist Refuge  - you could think about your own organization or extended family, while you read the following explanation.

How does a Spiritual Trinity appear in our modern context of Innovation? There is:

  1. The Law or Structure of a group may be written or unwritten, verbal or implicit. If it is simple enough, then the very actions of beings who carry out the law become a common language and shareable knowledge which need not be spoken, because everyone ‘knows it to be so’. This is Hegel's Thesis. Adhering to the Law creates a shortcut to understand the actions of others.
  2. The Smallest Society as well as the largest company is composed of ‘end-users’ who test out how the Law works in their particular circumstances. They work with the Law and iron out the quirks in each other’s understanding and practise of the operating instructions for their product or life, trying to make it simpler. But they are not concerned with the Law. In fact they often break it. This is Hegel's Antithesis. Practitioners strengthen each other’s resolve to continue using the rules to achieve their agreed ultimate goal. Rules can be tweaked, added to, or bent by this community as they strive to make things work in contexts where it seems the original law does not apply.  A community will continue to exist for only as long as all members strive for the same ideal, or idealise the same person. Conversely, people who meet by chance and find they share goals, or believe in similar rules, quite naturally create communities to help each other on their way. 
  3. There is always a Leader, who is the founder of a village, the teacher of his youngers, or the inventor of a product. He may no longer be alive, but he started it all. People might make posters of him, venerate him like a movie star and strive to imitate him or even take his place. The Leader is the one who lays down the law to help people work or to advise them on the operating instructions for an object to function properly. This is Hegel's Synthesis.

Do you believe in such a fundamental pattern?

Recognizing fundamental patterns should not be a matter of belief and you can always check my research for yourself! But perhaps this isn’t a comfortable thought for everyone. Perhaps you prefer to think of the world as random and orderless. People sometimes feel offended that any exposition of this subtle, underlying order to our world takes away your right to choose how your world can be. I hope that's not you. After all, it seems that the existence of this basic order can - and does - come in endless variations. So we can always choose how this Trinity appears in our life even if we cannot choose whether it appears. And since it will be everywhere we look, whether we want it to be so, or not, so the best course of action is to work with it, isn't it? In other words, I propose to you that we really must accept this Trinity as a fundamental necessity in our lives, in order to make sense of our journey.

In my ten years experience in this industry, it is only when we put the Trinity of these qualities together with the 4 Traits or Motivation needed for Innovation, that creative types are able to effect lasting change, because its just so much easier, less time consuming and energy-intensive to work with the principles that structure all our local worlds instead of working against them. Working with fundamental principles like this is the most elegant, simple and efficient thing to do.

Can you see these traits in yourself, your family, school or the organization you work for?

  1. Heroes have the intellect or knowledge to understand or explain hidden structures and laws
  2. Heroes find people to challenge them and join with them, to improve these laws in the context of ever-changing lives
  3. Heroes find a territory or create a virtual territory others do not see and in order to do this, they tolerate their rules being bent and broken by their team, even while they themselves keep the standards for what they wish everyone to be, do and have.

Let's make sure we can teach our kids these simple rules, to make their lives easier. We don't need to rely on schools to enhance kid's creativity if it permeates our daily lives!