By Natalie Nixon

Here’s a problem I’ve observed in many companies: People are obsessed with trying to innovate, without setting aside the time or space to go about the process of innovating.

We run from meeting to meeting, putting out fires, and yelling at each other across our chasms of silos. Innovation requires creativity. And one of the best ways to increase creativity is to practice two corollary competencies: wonder and rigor.

“Our work and educational environments emphasize rigor and forsake wonder.”

Growing up, did you study a musical instrument, get lost in art classes, or become a varsity level athlete?  Chances are you recall what felt like the laborious grind of practice, repetition, and mastering minutiae.

And if you stuck with it long enough, you also experienced the joyful moments of getting lost in the process. At a certain point there is a blurred boundary between the hard work and the flow of getting immersed in the process of creation.

Artistic practice threads through the lives of phenomenal scientists and business leaders. For example, Albert Einstein was a decent pianist and violinist, and would go off and play music to help with brainstorming to think through a new theory.

Steve Jobs studied calligraphy as a young man and credited that training with helping his brain to see in new ways. Jazz musicians must know music theory and practice scales religiously before they can go off and improvise. Deep levels of skill are essential in artists’ development. Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit is a roadmap for this reality.

Many corporate environments emphasize meetings, check-sheets, handbooks and rule books- a version of rigor.  Sometimes leaders at these companies forget that in their quest to innovate, only focusing on rigor is insufficient.  Wonder is also essential. WonderRigor is a chaordic system, consisting of both chaos (or randomness) and order (or structure).

The ying-yang relationship between expansive thinking (wonder) and deep dive focus (rigor) is the crux of creativity.  The 4th industrial revolution, where ubiquitous cloud technology and automation reign, is here.

The human quotient will increasingly be theprimary and critical factor to help individuals and organizations differentiate. The human quotient includes intuition, perspective and imagination.  

These elements are the crux of creativity, and will help you to zig, when others zag, and stay ahead of the competition. This is creativity’s business value.

My attempts to capture creativity’s business value stem from two insights.

“Insight #1:  Successful Entrepreneurs Take Intuition Very Seriously”

Insight #1: I observed a pattern in startup leaders’ origin stories. There is always a moment when they say a variation of the following: “Something told me not to do the deal”, or, “Something told me to work with her over him”.  That something is intuition, or pattern recognition.  

While we don’t teach intuition in business school, every successful entrepreneur references it.  We need to pay attention to that. This first insight inspired me to create a mini-ethnography, observing the ways DJ’s, chefs, first responders and dancers problem solve and use their intuition.

“Insight #2: Dancers Know A Ton About Innovation”

Insight #2: The second insight came from a deeper dive into the ways dancers problem solve. Dancer choreographers are systems designers.  They integrate both discipline and audacious dreaming to do their best work.  

They work at varying levels of scale and zoom in and out to make sense and gain perspective. They are also kinesthetic learners, moving and making in order to discover.  Similar to designers and engineers, their work is not a purely mental exercise.  

Also, it’s not enough for a dancer (or any artist) to be technically proficient.  In order to move us (the audience) they bring an additional competency to their work: wonder.

Thus began my development of WonderRigor- a creativity tool for business that sparks innovation and inquiry-based leadership.

Wonderis about curiosity, inspiration, awe, pausing, dreaming, audacity and asking a lot of “What if?” questions.   Socrates said that “Wisdom begins in wonder”.  Centuries later, the Jewish theologian and civil rights activist Abraham Heschel, noted that “Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge.”

Rigoris about discipline, practice, skill, details, repetition and honing technique by spending lots of time on task.  Leonardo da Vinci asserted that “Every obstacle is destroyed through rigor”.

“Wonder is about curiosity, audaciousness and asking ‘What if?!’. Rigor is about discipline and focus. They are corollaries.”

Here’s the thing: wonder and rigor are two sides of the same coin and are corollaries:

Corollary #1: Rigor cannot be sustained without wonder. 

Corollary #2: Wonder is found in the midst of rigor.

I’ve developed a card game to help teams and individuals build their capacity for wonder and rigor in order to innovate. It consists of a series of question prompts and 4 possible Modes of WonderRigor. The four Modes are: SpecializeHackProvoke and Invent.

  • Specialize when you need to do a deep dive, refine details and are a bit risk adverse.
  • Hack when you need to rely on current knowledge and act and discover quickly.
  • Provoke when you’re ready to blow up the status quo.
  • Invent when you’re ready to be a thought leader and a market leader.

You first choose a task or challenge- say, completing a new brand strategy, or writing a sales report.  You then identify the Mode you’re currently using to work on the task in the present state.

Then you “try on” and test out qualities of the Mode you would like to use in the future to complete the task.  Knowing the Mode to work through helps you in teaming, leadership development and hiring choices. Each Mode reveals different skills to develop and even new working partners to choose, leading to thought diversity.

“WonderRigor leads to business results.”

WonderRigor has real and direct business results. Individuals and organizations practicing Wonder and Rigor become more comfortable with ambiguity, focus on purpose as well as skillset, and acquire an adaptive mindset. Ultimately, this increases an organization’s capacity for inventive thinking and a collaborative work environment.

Inventive thinking leads to new business models, diverse revenue streams and strategic partners.  A collaborative work environment leads to fewer silos, greater efficiencies and cost reduction.

Since organizations are made of humans, WonderRigor helps us build in more ways to optimize what is human. So the next time you’re feeling stuck, or suspect that you’re giving lip service to innovation, experiment with adding more wondrous and rigorous approaches to the work.  Both are necessary.

How do YOU practice Wonder & Rigor?


Next Steps for the WonderRigor Project

  1. Check out this 2 min video on WonderRigor
  2. Look out for my interviews with a range of people (e.g., accountants, bakers, entertainment CEO’s, higher ed administrators) about how they see wonder and rigor manifest in their work. I’ll post these interviews on LinkedIn.
  3. WonderRigorcard game will be available on Amazon in early 2019.


About the Author

Natalie Nixon, PhD is an innovation strategist and President of Figure 8 Thinking, LLC. She advises leaders on change management at publicly traded and privately held corporations as well as non-profits.

She helps them design optimal ways to leverage creativity, sustain innovation and achieve priority business goals—resulting in happier customers and employees. Natalie is a published author, a global speaker represented by BigSpeak, a regular columnist for and a lecturer at The University of Pennsylvania.

Learn more at

Note : Article is originally published on linkedin