The Science of Innovation: How to Imagine the Unimaginable Why can certain companies see things that others can't, and what gives them the fortitude to invest in the seemingly impossible? Here are three brain-based strategies.

By Srini Pillay

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Time and again, Tesla continues to prove it's a company that dares to imagine the unimaginable. From electric cars to autonomous vehicles and now -- thanks to its recent acquisition of SolarCity -- solar energy, Tesla has challenged conventional thinking at every step and produced products that once seemed impossible.

Related: Follow The Rules, Or Rewrite Them? Innovation Is Anything But Business As Usual

But isn't that the goal every entrepreneur has for his or her startup? After all, innovative firms are known for growing more quickly and achieving higher profits.

As sexy as "imagining the unimaginable" sounds, the reality is really quite daunting. Sixty-six percent of products fail within their first two years, and a remarkable 96 percent of innovations don't make back their costs. Suffice it to say, innovation is a tough sell.

So, why can certain companies see things that others can't, and what gives them the fortitude to invest in the seemingly impossible? Surprisingly, the answers to these questions may call for more introspective thinking than you'd think. Startups, after all, are made up of people, and people have brains.

If you want to imagine the unimaginable, then, leverage the following three brain-based strategies:

1. Use imagery.

Observation alone is insufficient. Startups should deliberately add imagination and imagery to their tool kits. This is how companies such as Amazon are able to see into the future; they constantly ask, "What if?" while pairing futuristic tech trends with wild imaginations.

Making a mental movie of a desired outcome aids execution because imagery warms up the action brain. Multiple studies confirm that training stroke patients to imagine moving slowed or paralyzed parts of their bodies can actually improve movement in those areas, especially when the patients concentrate intensely on those images.

So, for your business, start by imagining what problem your startup will solve; then, fill in the details of how that will happen. Note that each detail should be an image -- not just a narrative. The more vivid the image, the more likely you are to stimulate youre "action brain" to start working.

Related: 6 Habits That Turn Dreams Into Reality

2. Question "reality."

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, explained in his book that innovation is often stunted by hidden forces. For startups, an overreliance on data can easily become one of these roadblocks. Data may accurately reflect historical trends, but it does not always represent the present moment, nor does it necessarily predict the future.

Consider this example from the medical realm: When radiologists, in a study, were asked to analyze a routine chest x-ray, 60 percent failed to realize a collarbone was missing. Why? Because the data they were familiar with had subconsciously trained them to expect to see one.

Interesting fact: A mere 1 in 1 million humans have the condition that can cause the absence of a collarbone.

Given that humans are prone to misunderstanding or misusing data, then, why rely on it? Instead, avoid prematurely anchoring your startup's sailboat of innovation because you've embraced the fallacy of "reality." Appraise all existing data with initial skepticism, and always test vital assumptions before putting them into practice.

3. De-stress.

Stress cements bad habits in the brain and prevents people from embracing new patterns of thinking. Throughout history, it's been known to cause even the most prolific business leaders to make unwise decisions on behalf of their companies.

This is why it's crucial that startups learn how to destress. The same way you would set aside time to refuel your car or eat your lunch, set aside time for companywide relaxation and mental refueling.

You could consider something as simple as meditation classes for your employees -- similar to what companies like Google and Apple do -- or you could get creative and host monthly "anything goes" parties.

At such parties, workers may dress as they wish (within reason, of course) and unwind in a designated "safe zone" that allows them to identify, explore and dispel the stressors that often derail the brain.

Related: 5 Ways to Reduce Stress for Your Employees

Imagining the unimaginable is clearly within your biological reach. Data and trends can tell you only so much about innovation and success. Harnessing the brainpower of your entire team, however, may help you unlock the true potential of your startup and create unbridled growth and prosperity.

Wavy Line
Srini Pillay

Founder and CEO, Neurobusiness Group

Srini Pillay, M.D., is the CEO of NeuroBusiness Group, the award-winning author of numerous books and the creator of a series of videos on "Managing Depression in the Workplace" for LinkedIn Learning.

Editor's Pick

'Catastrophic': Here's What You Should Know About the Debt Ceiling Crisis — And How a Default Could Impact Your Business
I Helped Grow 4 Unicorns Over 10 Years That Generated $18 Billion in Online Revenues. Here's What I've Learned.
Want to Break Bad Habits and Supercharge Your Business? Use This Technique.
Don't Have Any Clients But Need Customer Testimonials? Follow These 3 Tricks To Boost Your Rep.
Why Are Some Wines More Expensive Than Others? A Top Winemaker Gives a Full-Bodied Explanation.

Related Topics

Money & Finance

3 Ways to Create Multiple (Big) Streams of Income

Here are three ways to create multiple streams of income. These strategies require effort and resources but offer significant financial potential.

Science & Technology

She's Been Coding Since Age 7 and Presented Her Life-Saving App to Tim Cook Last Year. Now 17, She's on Track to Solve Even Bigger Problems.

Angelina Tsuboi, a full-stack mobile and web developer who also happens to be a pilot, has always been solution-oriented.


The Real Reason Why The Return to Office Movement is Failing is Revealed in New Study

There is a vivid sign of the disconnect between employees and their workplace, a glaring indication that companies need to revise their scripts to improve their hybrid and remote work policies.

Business News

7 of the 10 Most Expensive Cities to Live in the U.S. Are in One State

A new report by U.S. News found that San Diego is the most expensive city to live in for 2023-2024, followed by Los Angeles. New York City didn't even rank in the top 10.


Why Cat Videos Are Your Number One Competitor — And How You Can Beat Them

We remember to analyze who we are up against in our niche and forget the rest of it: the whole wide web fighting for our prospect's attention.

Business Solutions

The Rise of the Underdog: Why Holding Groups Won't Work for New Marketing and Media Giants

As smaller, growing agencies are ramping up talent, resources and focus, they're landing equally impressive clients and fees — and signifying that agency disruption is already well underway.