The Doors of Perception in Innovation: Between The Subjective and Objective

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.      

Aldous Huxley


 Perception encompasses the very same two ingredients as the thought patterns of disruptive innovators.  We address as our object a known and seek out an answer for the unknown. 


Every great idea begins with a unique perception.  Innovators are people who have learned how to activate the mechanisms of perception rather than let it idle as a lazy organ. 


This separation of thought conforms to another bifurcation within perception: our experience of the world as both deeply subjective as well as objective.  That is, this also seems to say perception is an inner, personal experience that our minds choose to act upon in certain ways.  Innovators not only possess unique experiences of reality, they also have the skills to ask the right questions to find answers. 


Aesthetic experience is immersive and explorative.  It is the essential first ingredient to all matters of innovation.  This entails having an experience of something.  Ideas don’t come out of a hat.  They’re lent to us by virtue of our abilities to experience reality in a unique way.  In fact, most innovators are right-brained.  It makes perfect sense we could borrow the lessons of artists by learning how to immerse ourselves into an artistic experience.


Perceptions of this sort are embodied, and our ideas spring from that experience.  Those ideas are the way we choose to represent something to ourselves in our minds.  That “picture” we create answers those underlying questions Arthur Schopenhauer mentions: the When, Why, and Wherefore of things rather than the more subjective experience of the What.  Aesthetic experience is both subjective and objective.  Suddenly we may have some sort of insight, which is personal but also takes us out of our ordinary selves.  It proffers uniqueness. 


This is all to say the foundation of innovation as a perceptual “event” lies within the domains of both the affective and cognitive spheres of the mind.  Art education typically leans toward the cognitive side without acknowledging how our own subjectivity plays such a significant role. 


Now, if we think about much of twenty first-century art, much of it reveals this understanding of ourselves.  For one, so much of it is extremely emotional!  Take, for example, the artist Julie Mehretu in works such as Dispersion of 2002.  Mehretu’s picture of the dispersal of sensory data represents the post-industrial paradigm.  She conveys the message, through her both personal and expressive language of Kandinsky-like colors and lines and Malevich’s rigid underlying rational geometry, the fusion of both the cognitive and affective and objective and aesthetic coordinates of perceptual experience. 

Julie Mehretu, Dispersion, 2002.jpg

To make the analogy with the disruptive techniques of strategic innovation, compare the way Mehretu invites the spectator to go from dwelling on the What in the minutiae of the picture to an overall experience of the whole and the way innovative thinkers perceive their object both immersively and with an objective distance.  The second constitutes that position we take when we speculate about the When, Why, and Wherefore.  Additionally, one might add, look at a picture no differently offers the possibility of alternate realities.  We can ask ourselves those crucial questions that allow us to solve problems.  Art no differently than the world itself is filled with potential and possibilities.   


If following Huxley, the “doors of perception” lie somewhere between what is known and unknown, it seems the active process of perception as a subjective or aesthetic experience seems to project the subject’s “will” (following Schopenhauer) on that object.  What happens cognitively is something different; also active, it is but a “search.”


With this “search” in mind, immediately Jang Yongliang’s mindboggling paintings come to mind of a post-industrial society nestled within a seemingly very traditional Chinese landscape.  As our mind leans towards the pleasure of the overarching whole, we gaze at the landscape reminded of the great literati painters from centuries ago.  The details pique our curiosity, and we ask ourselves is this disturbed feeling we have about what we see a vision of what is or even an apocalyptic nightmare of what could be. 

Yang Yongliang, Endless Streams, 2017.jpg


So we begin to ask ourselves where these pictures leave us as humans in this world.  Hence we ask ourselves, lest we confront desolation, what do we need to do? And that personal opinion we claim is one that rests on this duality of perceptual experience as neither nor but both cognitive and affective.