Why menstrual cycles and purple ties cause innovation to fail

Menstrual synchrony is the effect where women who live together, or work in close proximity, tend to synchronise their monthly cycles. This is a process of nature – not one of personal choice – but how this physiological change actually occurs is currently unknown. It is, however, indicative of something much more significant in the business world – and that is how businesses struggle to be truly innovative.

Large organisations employ new people not just for the skills they have, but also because they bring fresh perspectives into the business. This is all well and good, except that this freshness quickly dissipates.

We embrace these new people with a company culture which by default starts to erode many of their own personal differentiators to those expected by the business. They have to adapt and adopt the new company’s systems, processes, regulations, terminology and etiquette among many other things. The culture in turn starts to change their attitudes and their behaviours, and eventually these new employees start to align to other people’s patterns of thinking too and end up losing their individuality of thought.

You often don’t realise the effect this has on you, but we did some work for a UK company whose corporate colour was purple. I can’t say what business or even the industry they were in because this would give the client away! I was presenting the final report and there were six of their senior managers, both male and female, present, and every one of them had a purple item of clothing on, ranging from shirts to skirts and socks to ties. When I pointed this out to them they were quite shocked at themselves – but this demonstrates how easily it is to be subliminally seduced by the business culture.

Our bodies are highly resilient in so many ways, but our thinking is an extremely complex and delicate process in so many ways too. If working in close proximity to someone can cause a physiological change in our bodies as demonstrated by the menstrual synchrony effect, then the impingement of a new environment and culture has the potential to cause chaos by re-aligning our thinking patterns. Innovation is a hungry beast that needs to be well-fed by a feast of creative concepts. Aligned thinking patterns are like a dose of salmonella in that feast, as they destroy creative potential and cause real pain when it comes to identifying innovative new opportunities in your business.

An actor can change their character easily, but how easy is it for us to change our mental patterns? It’s damned hard – I can tell you!

Our brains thrive on recognising the patterns that we live by – it’s what makes us so smart. However, innovation and creativity require us to break these patterns – which is really, really hard, because often we don’t recognise that we are in, or aligned to, a pattern.

OK, OK! So maybe women’s menstrual cycles and purple ties don’t directly cause business innovation to fail – but they both demonstrate what is going wrong with the corporate imagination when it comes to delivering innovative opportunities.

Now we’ve understood what the problem is, there’ll be more on stoking the corporate imagination coming in a later post.

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