On Innovation: The Power of Awe



He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.

~ Albert Einstein

Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.

~ Immanuel Kant

“Imagine standing on the very edge of the Grand Canyon.  The blood red gorge stretches as far as you can see in every direction. The canyon floor drops precipitously below your feet.  You feel dizzy and step back from the edge.  Hawks circle through rock crevices so barren and stripped of vegetation you could as well be on the moon.  You are amazed.  You are humbled.  You feel elevated.

This is awe.

According to psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, awe is the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity, or might.  It’s the experience of confronting something greater than yourself.  Awe expands one’s frame of reference and drives self transcendence.  It encompasses admiration and inspiration and can be evoked from everything like great works of art or music or religious transformations; from breathtaking natural landscapes to human feats of daring and discovery.”

This is an excerpt from Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On that I am currently reading.  Mr. Berger’s book focuses on the principles that cause something to go viral – to be contagious.  Here are Mr. Berger’s six principles of contagiousness:

  1. Social currency – how good or important something makes us look for sharing it.
  2. Triggers – the stimuli in our environment that is associated with our message
  3. Emotion – something that invokes strong emotions (both positive and negative) is more likely to be shared
  4. Public – how prevalent something is in the public eye
  5. Practical Value – refers to something that is helpful to others and worthwhile to share
  6. Stories – people tend to enjoy telling and hearing stories

The Grand Canyon passage above is in the chapter on emotion.  As I read the passage, I thought that the description of awe was a great description of experiencing true innovation.  Innovation is a key strategic differentiator for great businesses.  Great leaders seek and encourage innovation.  You know you have achieved it when what is created generates awe.

I have experienced awe.  I seek opportunities to experience it as often as possible.  I seek it through music, religion, beautiful landscapes, and great works of art as Mr. Berger points out.  I also desire to create it.  I find that business is a great field of true innovation and awe, which is why I enjoy reading and writing about it so much.

I encourage you to seek awe.  Seek to experience it.  Seek to create it.  In a way, awe is another way of describing greatness.  Be one of those rare individuals who brings awe and amazement to the world.

Choose greatness.




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