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Innovation and Product Development

Suspend Reality – 6 Steps to Move from Fantasy to Execution

Suspend Reality to Generate Creative Innovation

We’re just now finishing up the holiday season. At this time of year, I’m always intrigued by the magic of the holidays we celebrate, and the optimistic goals we set for the new year. Even the lies we tell ourselves. It amazes me how we collectively like to suspend reality for a bit, reflect, and forecast. And I wonder why we don’t drift into thoughts of the extraordinary more often.

Holiday Magic

The two largest December holidays are Hanukkah and Christmas. Both of these religious holidays have central themes based on miracles. Hanukkah celebrates the miraculous oil that burned beyond its natural limits. Christmas honors the virgin birth on the religious side, and the global travels of Santa Claus on the secular side.

Our souls desire the fantastic and the unimaginable. So why is it that many adults downplay whimsy as childish? Why have many company cultures allowed themselves to be so buttoned up and restrictive?


As I mentioned in my blog post about the Psychology of Innovation, we humans are wired for storytelling. Even 6,000 years ago, storytellers were highly regarded in society.

Zippia released some market numbers for the entertainment industries this year, that include a $717 billion dollar U.S. market size (6.9% of the U.S. GDP). This includes gaming ($160 billion), movies ($91.8 billion), broadcast TV ($63.2 billion), music ($43 billion), and book publishing ($26.8 billion).

It’s no wonder that we still find ourselves enamored by the fantastic stories of Alice in Wonder Land, The Wizard of Oz, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Fantasy draws us in. Comedy removes our worries. Drama keeps us nervously intrigued.

Some have postulated on whether or not science fiction authors have predicted the future. Though I’m keen to agree with the Big Think article that, instead, science-fiction inspires the people who shape the future. We can do the same within our organizations!

Disruptive Thinking

I’m a big fan of the concept of disruption. Let’s turn things on their heads! If the team believes that there is a constraint keeping them from pursuing a path, then imagine a world where that is not the case. Years ago, I found the book series by Jean-Marie Dru and it immediately hit home for me.

When I was in high school, I recall an assignment where each student in the class was given a character from a book we had just read, and we each wrote an essay on our character. I was assigned perhaps the least interesting character in the book. I had to write three pages on this character, so I needed to find a way to entertain myself. Like the crazy conspiracy meme, I found my not-so-obvious path. I got an A+ and a special note from the teacher because I connected the dots to suggest that without my character there wouldn’t be a story to tell.

I realized, even then, with a little unconventional thought, you can connect dots in interesting and unexpected ways. In fact, in my blog post about Getting Unstuck When You’re Not the Creative Type, this concept of lateral thinking works everywhere! Remember that the opposite of one great idea can be another great idea! You can entirely suspend reality (even introducing randomness), and then come back and complete the full circle in a way that delights.

The Big Groups Do It

Amazon is known for their “working backwards” approach. The first step in creating a new product (such as AWS, FireTV, or the Kindle) is to write the press release – the thing that is normally the last step for everyone else. In doing so, they’ve found a way to suspend reality at the very start. When all is said and done, what do we want to tell the world about this product? Doing this first bypasses all the real-world reasons to NOT do something and focuses on the end result of why people will love this thing if we pull it off. The second step is to write the FAQs for the product. Once again, taking something that is normally one of the last steps, and doing it early in the process. It’s like writing our own science-fiction!

Google X is known for their moonshots. The goal is to create a culture that allows radical breakthroughs. Even if they miss the moon, they land among the stars. They’ve entertained such radical ideas as teleportation, a space elevator, and climate adaptation.

Tesla and SpaceX are a couple others where they bucked conventional wisdom and pushed for the unexpected. Elon Musk has said that the only constraints (principles) he lives by are the laws of physics – everything else is a suggestion.

Suspending Reality in Your Organization

So how do we get there? How can we set teams up to run distinct threads for both long-term directional conversations and still also handle the short-term, must-do tasks?

I’ve written about other topics that can help understand related principles:

But specifically, to reach our goal of allowing teams to suspend reality long enough to allow unexpected creative innovation that can then be turned into actionable effort, we’ll need to consider the following six steps.

1. Have Leadership Backing

Any effort toward innovation is going to fail without approval and commitment from leadership.

2. Commit Creative Time for Teams

Leadership then must agree to teams or departments investing time toward creativity. This requires a “leap of faith” in that there is no guarantee of a specific outcome. This is where the magic should happen. Allow the teams time to suspend reality.

3. Align to Company Vision and Goals

The effort toward creativity and innovation needs to align with the company vision or North Star goal. We don’t want the teams focusing on something completely unrelated to the company goals, however, some company goals are broad and can allow interpretation that can still fundamentally change direction.

4. Encourage Debate

Creativity can be messy at first. Everyone involved should know that rough ideas may not be fully refined and ready for prime time yet. The teams should allow and accept debates, critiques, and spin-off ideas.

5. Ensure a Clear Commitment Strategy

Even before the debates begin, try to make sure everyone in the process understands what it takes to get to a decision. How refined does it need to be? What analysis is required to make the decision? Who has the final choice and who all needs to commit to taking it forward? Who will fund the next steps? What early results need to be seen to continue?

6. Plan and Iterate

Establish the plan for funding, timelines, resourcing, etc. In most cases, we’re pushing the boundaries here, so a true agile approach can be a perfect fit for managing things. Expect to iterate on the idea and be flexible. Start small and build it up.


I hope this article is able to inspire you to try and suspend reality within your company. I’ve tried to provide you with the concept, examples, and steps to implement. If you have other suggestions, please reach out on social media (Twitter X or LinkedIn) or leave a comment here on the blog!


If you are looking for a digital agency that can help suspend reality to envision an exciting future, reach out to your Perficient account manager or use our contact form to begin a conversation.

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Brandon Luhring

Brandon is a consumer experience engagement manager at Perficient. His career has included running digital and marketing projects both in-house and as a consultant. He enjoys topics around creativity, innovation, design, technology, and leadership.

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