The heartful innovator – part 3

The heartful innovator – part 3

In the previous articles, RAVI VENKATESAN shared the importance of innovation in current and future times. He dived into the concept of changing the “observer,” the innovator, to see exponential shifts in results. He also outlined four key aspects of the “inner state” that we want to fine-tune, and explored the role of the intellect and its transformation in enabling innovation. In this article, he explores the role the ego plays in Innovation.

In the book, Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation, author Steven Johnson says, “Innovation thrives in collaborative networks where opportunities for serendipitous connections exist.” He extensively describes how the best innovations are based on people from different disciplines meeting. He also talks about this concept of “slow hunches” that mature over time and connect to other ideas, leading to breakthrough innovations.

His book provides a lot of ideas on how to set up an external environment and a platform to accelerate innovation. For example, Google’s cafeteria is purposefully designed to facilitate people meeting and talking with others from different functional areas. As more ideas collide, innovation starts to happen naturally.

I have setup “innovation cafés” at the last three companies where I’ve worked. Each one was designed to facilitate people being able to hang around, have relaxed conversations, whiteboard ideas, and come up with innovative solutions to problems.

While this addresses the external environment, is it enough? Does it work to have wonderful collaborative spaces if people don’t get along with each other? Can an egotistic and self-centered team member collaborate effectively with others, even if the external environment is setup for them to do so? Certainly not!

So, we turn our focus to the internal environment and how to tune it. This is much more potent and powerful. When we can address our internal environment, then we see exponential results with these conducive external environments complementing it.

The biggest internal barrier to innovation is the “know-it-all” attitude. This comes from having an ego that is unrefined. It leads us to not listen to others, and prevents the collision of ideas and hunches that could lead to great innovation. To understand why this happens, and how to change it, let’s explore the role of the ego a little further.

Unlike popular perception, the ego is not our enemy. It is a mental model of ourselves that keeps updating dynamically as we go through our interactions in this world. It is our perception of ourselves – how we define our identity in the world. Consider the following scenarios:

Alice goes to an art gallery and admires a Van Gogh painting. She really likes it, and simultaneously her mental model of herself is updated to include, “Has fine taste in post-impressionist art.” Sometimes the ego is exaggerated and creates a self-perception that is superior to reality, and sometimes it goes in the other direction, creating a self-perception that is inferior to reality. At these extremes, these are categorized as superiority and inferiority complexes. However, even people who don’t suffer these extremes often suffer some level of distortion. Another way to say this is that most of us don’t see ourselves exactly as we are! Here lies the main challenge with the ego.

If we can shift our inner state to think about
collective humanity as part of one family,
and think of other people as our brothers and sisters,
it will naturally create a softness of heart,
and that will lead to the ego’s refinement.

We cannot do away with the ego, because it is also what tells us what we are capable of. Without the ego, we wouldn’t be able to do anything! We couldn’t walk from one place to another, or lift a certain amount of weight, or solve a math problem. However, when the ego is exaggerated, it blocks our ability to collaborate and innovate. So, how can we solve this?

If we can shift our inner state to think about collective humanity as part of one family, and think of other people as our brothers and sisters, it will naturally create a softness of heart, and that will lead to the ego’s refinement. We will value others without devaluing ourselves. We will respect their opinions without losing our self-respect. Eventually, our perception of ourselves, our sense of identity, will become a part of a broader whole. This state of ego will lead to openness and an optimal inner environment to accelerate Innovation.


Observe your interactions at work and with the family over the next week. Maintain notes of how you perceive yourself, and how you perceive those you interacted with. This will give you clues to the state of your ego.

During the following week, try the following practice before bedtime: With your attention on your heart, affirm to yourself that all men and women are your brothers and sisters. Maintain this thought for five to ten minutes. See if this practice creates a shift in your interactions and the state of your ego.

The best part is that when the ego is truly refined it leads to sincere (not false) humility. This quality creates charisma in a person, as others want to interact with them and collaborate with them. I find this worth aspiring for, and wish you the best in experiencing this wonderful state.


Ravi Venkatesan

About Ravi Venkatesan

Ravi lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and is currently Chief Technology Officer at USAT. He is also a regular public speaker and public speaking coach. He has been a Heartfulness meditator for over 20 years and is passionate about applying meditation lessons to improve workplace relationships and productivity.

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