The One That Got Away 

Or the invisible risk of lost opportunities

by Rosie Harrison  


It’s still early in the morning as you look around the meeting room. You see an enormous collection of empty coffee cups doing a good impression of Mt. Everest with crumbs from the croissant and toast providing realistic rock features.   

A solitary figure, with glazed eyes, stares at a wall while everyone else has dashed out for a comfort break (or even to covertly smoke a cigarette) meanwhile the next round of refreshments - more coffee and Danish pastries this time – arrives to fuel the collective energy of the group  

Sound familiar? I suspect that many brainstorming, strategic planning and other key meetings follow this pattern. What if I told you that this type of environment is likely to lessen creativity and the use of intuition and imagination? Indeed some of the things we are getting ‘wrong’ will astound you. 

"So what?" I hear you say.  "Even if it's true, what's it got to do with risk management?"  Join me through a series of sensible steps that end up with a surprisingly strange conclusion, and make your own mind up.


The Invisible Risk

Some risks are less obvious than others. It’s easy to see the ones that have immediate and nasty consequences as soon as they materialise but there are others where the effects take along time to show and only then seen by the absence of good things. These sneaky ones, like missed opportunities, poor strategic choices and financially skewed evaluation systems are tough to handle.

Often the first time you realise that you have missed an opportunity is when a competitor is wildly successful with a product or service that you had the capability to invent but for some inexplicable reason didn’t. It is difficult for many people to visualise what something new and different could mean to the company let alone estimate how bad things would be if they did not have it or get it right.

As Anita Roddick of the Body shop says “when you see something new your vision usually isn’t shared by others”. Famous examples are when Decca turned down the Beatles and Western Union did not buy out Bell when offered it for $100,000. Even Fred Smith originator of Federal Express got a C for the idea in college.

Other times we start with a good idea but give up. Imagine the dialogue between an inventor and an accountant. “When will you succeed with your new process” inventor – “When we do”. Good examples of staying power are Pilkington taking 7 years to develop the floating glass manufacturing technique making other manufacturing methods obsolete and earning millions in royalties. Edison who tried almost a 1,000 combinations of elements before he found a good filament for the light bulb. It takes a really flexible evaluation system to support this level of uncertainty.  


Risks of Omission

The main opportunity related risks appear to be not so much the things we do so much as the things we don’t – sins of omission rather than commission:

  opportunities not recognised 

  new ideas and vision not understood or supported    

 financial evaluation concentrated on short term returns 

 cold feet during design and testing phases  


Change is not optional

To borrow from the fashion industry - Change is the new Constant and the only logical response to change is change. For the successful 21st century business we need to move beyond the traditional and rational into the realms of feeling, creativity and intuition.

         “for organisations to be innovative, creative solutions are required”  

          “creativity is the application of imaginative thought which results in innovative solutions to many problems”  

To anticipate new opportunities ahead of the game, companies need to be:  

 open to opportunity 

  innovative and creative  


·          flexible within decision and evaluation processes

·         able to bend the house rules and standards

This can’t be news. I know we’ve heard it all before – we’ve read the books, played the games and done the brainstorming, some of us have even got Balanced Scorecards to show that finance is not the only business driver. So why do so many companies have problems being open, creative, innovative and intuitive?  

Could it be that harnessing creativity and innovation is not as simple as it might seem? Is there more to it than coffee, late nights and management games?


Understanding Creativity

Creative people:

·        are independent thinkers

·        are imaginative

·        have no need to invoke standard approaches

·        have a reasonable level of intelligence

·        desire originality

·        like experimenting  

As Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”

It's not so much what they think – notice that creative people do not have to be geniuses - it's the way that they  think that makes the difference. The answer lies in the way our brains are wired.


A brain of two halves

The two hemispheres of your neo cortex or thinking cap, physically sit atop your older mammalian and reptilian brains. Your thinking cap gives you access via the left side to logic, reasoning and analysis with intuition, imagination and creativity accessed through the right side. It’s worth noting that our conscious brain represents 1/8th of our whole brain – the biggest part by far is the subconscious.  


Your Brain Power

Brains generate so much electrical activity that we can measure it through the thick bone of our skulls simply by pressing electrodes against the scalp. Measured brainwave frequencies, vibrating from 0.5 to 50 cycles per second or Hertz, give a general indication of what’s going on.  

At 13 – 50 Hz, the Beta state you are in our normal waking state, focused on the external world and can be alert and concentrate. At 8 –13 Hz, the Alpha state you are relaxed, calm and mentally unfocussed. Not much happens but lack of significant alpha waves produces stress and illness.  

Slowing down further at 4 –7 Hz, you reach theta state, often called the twilight state, and are hovering between wakening and sleep. Theta state is the creative zone where we have access to subconscious material, free association, creativity and sudden insights. The disadvantage is that most of us fall asleep once we begin to generate significant amount of theta waves.  

And lastly at 0.5 – 4 Hz, we are in Delta state and are deep asleep and undergoing profound rest. This is also when growth and healing take place. Go below 0.5 and you’re officially dead!  

Working with Buddhist monks, scientists found that it was possible to be in Theta state and remain alert and awake. And they found that when volunteers were trained to synchronise all four wave bands, creativity and insight takes a sharp upturn. Edison discovered this for himself by noticing that he made breakthroughs just as he was going to sleep. He trained himself to prolong his waking state and take advantage of the imagination and creativity that he was then able to access.

The really good news is that there are no special gifts or powers - we are all born with the abilities to be creative, intuitive and imaginative.

You don’t have to create creativity: You just have to allow it. This is nicely demonstrated by watching children play – research confirms that young children spend most of their time in the creative zone.  

However, by the time they grow up and become managers many have no faith in their ability to be creative, and on top of that many organisations unintentionally put blocks in their way.


Blockages to creativity and innovation


  personal beliefs (I can’t draw, I never have good ideas etc) 

habitual responses – relies on the same old thinking strategy  

stress or anxiety about looking foolish   

lack of training or skill – don’t know how to think differently  


house style and processes unsuitable for creativity 

poor environment – unsuitable facilities  

culture and attitudes -  competitive mind  

planning too much to soon 

strategy incorporated into budget planning 

wrong performance measures. “The things that count cannot be counted and the things that can be counted do notEinstein 

goal setting mechanisms concentrate on specific - left-brain will limit you to where you are today based on past experience and current resources.

Note: Olympic athletes don’t go for achievable and realistic – they go for gold. – Nobody goes for the achievable bronze.  


Release your Creativity

What can you do to reclaim those long-lost abilities or boost little used ones?

practice, practice and practice – it does get easier 

relax and get into the creative zone - theta state 

think big – leave the details to your left-brain 

have a book or note pad by your bed – as you go to sleep tell your brain the problem and ask for a solution 

listen to what your body says – develop a trustworthy gut feeling  


Harness and Direct Creativity

The key is to reach the creative zone where ideas can flow freely unhampered by resistance from the analytical, logical left-brain. The ability to reach the creative zone can be taught in a variety of ways. Bio feed, mind machines, specialised relaxation training.  

The Jack Black Mindstore course is designed to teach business people how to access their right-brain talents regularly and consistently. and harness and direct them to promote creativity, innovation and a host of other benefits. I went along to see if it would work for me. It was enlightening and fun, and yes it did, but I slipped back into left-brain ways at the office – you really do need to practice until it becomes second nature.  

One of the most interesting demonstrations was Jack pitted against two strong young man (one at a time!) in a contest of strength he lost – convincingly. Then he asked them to hold a succession of objects close to their body. As Jack repeated the strength test with first one object then the next the effect was dramatic. Jack beat them with little effort.  

Remember we started in the coffee filled conference room? One of the objects in Jack's demonstration was a standard cup of coffee - the demonstration illustrated that certain substances cause our energy to be diverted to the vital organs away from the brain. As a left-brain person I was sceptical so I tried the experiment in the office with a colleague and a cup of coffee. It worked  - leaving my  5’10 colleague looking positively puzzled as to how a 5’2 couch potato beat him.  

You’ve heard the phrase ‘You are what you eat’?  Kinesiology takes that one step further and I checked out Jack’s demonstration with Scottish kinesiologist, Alison Patrick and she confirmed the validity of the technique and the fact that there are many substances that have this draining effect on our strength and stamina. She also talked me through a range of techniques like a brain gym designed to sharpen the brain. Fascinating and amazing stuff.

Another reason to avoid coffee and caffeine is more down to earth. Caffeine causes brainwave patterns to go into beta  – the logical and analytical mode not what you want at a brainstorming session.  


Creative tips from Alison

Feel better have more energy and buzz.

Drink water and avoid caffeine the day before and during important meetings 

For great results cut coffee and smoking out for 2 weeks and drink lots of water  


The Challenge

As a person who spent my life developing my left-brain some of the claims from the right-brain fans seem far fetched and outrageous (I missed out a lot of the really mind boggling stuff) but the concept that each of us can just be creative whenever we choose is very appealing.  

To know that every organisation is stuffed to the gills with creative people just waiting to be taught how to release their creativity is awesome. To dream that we never again have to miss opportunities because of corporate tunnel vision is wonderful - to believe it requires a leap of faith.  

For us lefties the challenge is to look at this new information and recognise it as an opportunity to extend our skills, to reclaim innate abilities, to spot opportunities and realise fully the risks of not being open to the new possibilities and bright  future these techniques offer.  

Can we afford to take the risk of looking foolish, of being branded ‘new age’ I think we have to. The alternative is that we lag further behind the ones that will. I asked you at the beginning whether creativity was something that risk managers should care about – now its time make up your own mind – oh!  and be creative and imaginative while you do it!  

To have it all, all we have to do is suspend disbelief and go for it.  


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Making Management Decisions Steve Cook & Nigel Slack. ISBN 0-135-43406-8

Instant Creativity Brian Clegg, Paul Birch

Mindstore Jack Black ISBN 0-7225-2994-5

Mindstore For Personal Development Jack Black ISBN 0-7225-3350-0

Great Myths of Business, William Davis ISBN 0-7494-2685-3

The Inner Game of Work, Timothy Gallwey ISBN 1-842 03015-9

Ignite Your Intuition : Improve Your Memory, Make Better Decisions, Be More Creative and Achieve Your Full Potential Craig Karges  ISBN: 1558746765

Opportunity Spotting, Nigel MacLennan ISBN: 0566080044

Management and Organisation Behaviour Mullens ISBN 0-273-63552-2

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind  Joseph Murphy ISBN 0-7433-0818-7

Superlearning 2000 Sheila Ostrander.: ISBN 0-285-63346-5

Applied Kinesiology Tom Valentine ISBN: 0892813288  

Websites International College of Applied Kinesiology



The MindStore System, Fax: 0141 333 9633 E-mail:  

Kinesiology Contact

Allison Patrick on 0141 616 4045  

Tit Bits for interest

Extreme Creativeness

Expand your mind with underwater training. Yoshira Nakamats, inventor of the digital watch, floppy disc and 2,00 other patents does it underwater.  He holds his breath for up to 5 minutes and writes his ideas with a water proof marker and pad – both his own inventions. How could this possibly work?  

Behind this story is the medical fact, known by doctors in medical school, that if you hold your breath underwater this builds up carbon dioxide in bloodstream. This in turn expands the carotid arteries that carry oxygen to the brain. Spend and hour a day underwater holding your breath in chunks of 3-4 minutes for 3 weeks and you will permanently expand these arteries. The result you will have more oxygen to the brain, less toxins and an increased IQ of 5-10 points. Something to try in the holidays perhaps?  

Posture and Breathing for Creativity

Every 90 minutes a different brain hemisphere becomes dominant. Scientists at Dalhousie University have found that when this happens your breathing changes. When your left-brain is dominant you breath through your right nostril and vice versa. If you want to get creative and wake up both sides of your brain take 3 good breaths through your left nostril and then you right nostril.  

It also works when you lie down. Choosing to sleep on the left side may give you some very creative dreams. Do not try this on the board room table.  

Child of the Universe

The earth is reputed to resonate at 7.8 Hertz and people in meditative trances ‘at one with the universe’ have brainwave patterns matching this frequency.


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Rosie Harrison is an ex Systems Analyst, Strategic Risk Manager and trainer, and corporate business manager.   Currently she is working as a life coach and business mentor. She also teaches Tai Chi.