The secret to innovation in the cannabis industry.

by Jessica BillingsleyOctober 23, 2018

The most famous business advisors will tell you the secret to succeeding in business is innovation. 

But what’s the secret to innovation?

A manager once sent me a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on innovation.  Now, I have nothing against HBR.  In fact, I have a subscription and generally love their articles. However, this article took all of the joy out of innovation and creativity and advocated for a structured process so rigid it was hard to believe a good idea could ever come from its practice.  The article encouraged setting aside time in the workplace to be creative, and it also proposed specific exercises to help teams generate creative ideas. 

The person who sent the article was brilliant at organization, process, and structure but struggled with creativity and exploring new ideas within their team.  I realized the article must have appealed precisely because it offered the illusion of structure and process to solving the problem of innovation and creativity.  But it just doesn’t work that way in real life. Any truly groundbreaking artist, athlete, or entrepreneur will tell you their best ideas come during that quiet, in between space where focus is so intense it is called “the zone” or “flow.”

3 Steps to Solving Business Problems

I believe as long as you solve your clients’ problems better than anyone else, you will succeed. So instead of trying to be innovative, try to be helpful and the innovation will flow.

In any business, there are three main steps leaders should take in order to be helpful to their industries and clients. 

Step 1 to this is actually understanding your clients—who they are, what they want, and what they need.

Step 2 is understanding their problems—both now and into the future.  For instance, a cannabis business in a new state has different problems today and tomorrow. Today’s problem might be advertising and attracting customers with a unique product or offering.  In the future, their biggest problem may be continuing to offer unique and appealing brands or products. Tomorrow, they may have more pressure from increased competition and supply, and they may be faced with the challenge to operate at scale, becoming more profitable with lower margins and higher volume. 

These are the types of problems we created MJ Platform to solve. Not only the problems of today, but the problems facing the emerging global economy of cannabis. 

Which brings me to that illusive 3rd step—actually implementing a solution to your clients’ problems. 

I think this step is so important that it’s MJ Freeway’s second core value, “Be part of the solution.”  I ask every team member at MJ Freeway to not only bring problems that need to be solved, but to bring possible solutions.  Practicing this is harder than it sounds, which is why we have a core value structured around it, incenting and encouraging daily flexing of this muscle. 

It’s easy for the best leaders to say, the secret to success is “innovation” or “solving your customers’ problems better than anyone else.”  Steps one and two above can be accomplished through dedication of time and asking the right questions.  It also helps if you care about your client.  That helps you to empathize and understand their problems better.  It’s also why our third core value is, “Show people you care.”  After all of this, you have to actually solve your customers’ problems and to do so in an efficient and appealing way.

So how do you actually think of new and innovative solutions to your customers’ problems?

Accessing a higher mental state is the key to innovation.

This is where innovation happens. Use systems, structure, and processes to uncover the answers to step 1 & 2. But step 3 is a different beast.

Rarely, if ever, will a business leader tell you their new idea came from a good long session at the office.  This is where all of the best practices from the top business leaders come into play.  Although I’m not generally a Tim Ferriss fan, I absolutely loved his book, Tools of Titans. I found it fascinating that so many high performing people employed many of the same practices to access a higher mental state.  Many, like daily meditation, are already a part of my life, but I also learned a few new practices I’m eager to try.  It’s interesting how much these practices to access an altered mental state all have in common. 

I have known for years the best approach when I’m stuck on a problem without an apparent solution is to get out of my head.  I’ve used rock climbing for over 20 years to get out of my head and access that focused state of awareness that is outside of normal brain activity, activating gamma waves.  Gamma brain waves are the fastest brainwave frequency with the smallest amplitude. They are associated with the feeling of blessings reported by experienced meditators such as monks and nuns, and with peak concentration and extremely high levels of cognitive functioning (Mindvalley). 

My best business ideas have all come while climbing, running, or finishing a yoga practice.  They never seem to come at the office.  My mother, a tremendous mentor of mine, did her master’s thesis for her nurse practitioner’s degree over 40 years ago on the effects of relaxation techniques on natural childbirth.  She has been a lifelong student of the mind and how to train its pathways.  I remember calling her for advice when I was completely stuck on solving a problem for a computer science class, and she encouraged me to go to bed, envision the problem I wanted to solve, and let my brain work on it while I slept.  I solved that particular problem, and I employ this technique to this day. 

Altering brain waves for mental health.

Accessing a higher brain state doesn’t only work in business. It can keep you mentally balanced in all areas of your life.

Twenty years ago, bike racing saved me from a deep and dark depression.  I was 18 years old, and my boyfriend died in a car accident on his way to see me.  I was completely lost.  While in a professor’s office to discuss whether I would try to catch up on my studies and continue the quarter, I commented on the gorgeous road bike he had.  Biking and bike tours had been a family activity for years.  He encouraged me to try a couple of the university team’s group rides, and I soon found a channel for my pain. 

I poured everything into the bike and the road, and found I could sleep at night if I was exhausted enough and somehow excel at my studies as well. 

After a few years of racing, I grew bored of biking, and later took up rock climbing and skiing. Within the first 10 feet of a climb or steep slope on skis, I achieved an altered state of flow that took several hours on a bike.  But climbing and skiing at high levels is a dangerous pursuit.  Five of my climbing partners have died pursuing extreme sports.  Dean Potter, famous rock climber, slack liner, and base jumper, who recently died while wing suiting, once said the secret to the dark arts is that you access that state of bliss and pure focus immediately, while you may only glimpse it through hours of meditation. 

Yoga saved my life because it gave me a slower but less dangerous and more predictable way to reach this state.  Meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), and asana (physical yoga poses), all help train the body and brain to access this state of flow where all good ideas arise, and all can be safely and repetitively employed on a daily basis.  Which leads me back to, The Tools of Titans, and the very interesting tidbit that most very successful entrepreneurs meditate.

Beyond Balance

I have thought of my pursuit of climbing, skiing, and yoga as just balance needed for my life, not specifically recognizing or giving credit to how I channel these into idea creation for business.  In retrospect, I realize how much I lean on focusing my pursuit, whether it’s climbing, yoga, or a good night of sleep.  I think of the problem in my mind, clearly state it, and then I picture letting it go and release it.  I then either go to sleep, focus on my climb, or dive into my yoga and meditation practice.  When I finish the chosen activity, I circle back to the problem and consider whether any new solutions come to mind.  This focused approach has resulted in the vast majority of my best ideas. 

I think about the effectiveness of altered states a lot and have started encouraging it more in my team. 

I will often hold leadership retreats away from the office to get into a different brain space.  We also have different rooms at our office we use for brainstorming.  They are all equipped with whiteboards, but I once witnessed two of my tech leaders carry two additional white boards into one of the rooms for their brainstorming session.

Microdosing, my preferred method of consuming cannabis, is also becoming increasingly popular as a way to access an altered state while maintaining awareness and focus.  I lenjoy microdosing because it allows you to experience the benefits of THC without the feelings of being high. If you want to learn more about microdosing as a consumer or a business, check out our webinar, What is microdosing? I was also intrigued when in September, the Beckley Foundation began studying microdosing LSD as an alternative to Adderall. 

Paradoxically, we all need to pursue balance not only for our own sanity and a healthy life balance, but also in order to succeed.  Working more does not generally translate into more productivity.  Work overload decreases productivity by 68% in employees who feel they don’t have enough hours in the day to complete their tasks. (Source: Cornerstone). 

And we live in a culture of overconnectivity, expected to drop our task and respond to a text, email, or instant message within minutes.  No one can think deeply or concentrate on tasks in this climate.  I encourage everyone to set aside DND or “do not disturb” time to work on challenging problems. While you may think of the perfect solution to a problem while out of the office, eventually you have to put it into action—try it and see if it works, iterate, tweak, and iterate again.  All of this is usually office work. 

So what’s the secret to innovation?

Get out of your head and access “the zone” or “flow.”

Go for a walk.  Sit and meditate.  Try new surroundings.  And focus on solving the problems in your purview.  Good luck and enjoy the journey.

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