Given our interest at First Steps Consulting in innovation design and the innovation pipeline, I have been reading with some interest about the work being done by the MIT Media Lab’s Dream Team’ (Cool name, huh). While they are working on a number of projects, I have been particularly intrigued by the general concept of Targeted Dream Incubation (TDI). 

The objective of TDI, as I understand it, is to leverage the unrestrained and divergent nature of unconscious sleep by inserting particular themes into our heads while we are sliding into sleep during a state of sleep called hypnagogia, made up of the first stages of sleep. The thinking is that our unrestrained brains during REM sleep can be wildly creative and that it is possible to direct some of this creativity by injecting targeted thoughts prior to this creative period. (For a more thorough and credible summary of TDI, be sure to check out the Media Lab’s overview HERE) –

“We showed that dream incubation is tied to performance benefits on three tests of creativity, by both objective and subjective metrics,” Haar Horowitz states. “Dreaming about a specific theme seems to offer benefits post-sleep, such as on creativity tasks related to this theme. This is unsurprising in light of historical figures like Mary Shelley or Salvador Dalí, who were inspired creatively by their dreams. The difference here is that we induce these creatively beneficial dreams on purpose, in a targeted manner.” –

One of the reasons this really interests me (beyond hacking my own dreams) is that I believe there could be a parallel between this dream hacking and an opportunity to improve on the ideation process when we are not in dreamland. If inserting, or priming, thinking prior to a dream state can direct and improve the creative process during sleep is it also possible that priming our thinking prior to a divergent ideation state creates a similar benefit to creativity?

In the TDI process, a participant is provided an audio cue that creates a mental image in their mind. They then fall into a deeper sleep and presumably have some wild creative dreams directed by the audio cue. Then the researchers wake up the participant enough to capture their creative process and then put them back into the dream state with a new audio cue for another round of TDI. This sounds so much like the double diamond interactions of design thinking, but the focus here is on the neurological priming that takes place prior to the divergent creative process.

I would propose that TDI and other research on Neurological Priming might suggest that the traditional “Double Diamond” pyramid used to outline the creative thinking process could be improved by adding targeted Neurological Priming prior to each Divergent Stage. As participants from multiple backgrounds and areas of expertise come to the table for divergent thinking how can we best prime them to influence their understanding or acceptance of outside perspectives prior to a session of divergent creativity?



Priming as Part of Innovation Design


We are seeking to understand and refine this process of innovation design with our own client engagements through a process called “Informed Intuition”, and with the growing multiplicity in skill sets and new objective insights from data analytics, there is a greater need than ever to spend more time on the “preparation” phase of ideation to get the most out of investment in the creative process.

If you are engaged in similar efforts or interested in our application of the process, please feel free to comment or reach out!

We are also conducting a small research effort on the potential for priming as part of the innovation process.  If you would be interested in participating in this small study, please complete the short form below and we will send you an email with further information on the study and how to engage.  We will share the summary results if the study with all participants.