Most businesses need to innovate to guarantee long term success. But what does true innovation look like? Understanding the science behind innovation, and what makes some start-ups thrive and others fail, is the focus of the world-first Future Minds Lab which launched at UNSW Sydney this week.

The purpose-built research and applied lab, based at UNSW Psychology, will include a team of 20 scientists, designers and psychologists to study the fundamental brain science and psychology behind innovation. The research team will work with industry partners to produce products and services to improve the way institutions and businesses approach different forms of innovation.

“Our mission is to harness everything we know about neuroscience and psychology to understand and boost innovation,” says founder and director Professor Joel Pearson, based at UNSW Science. “We want to help supply the Australian work force with the skills they will need for the future of work.

“Using fundamental research and development, our team is creating products and programs to ensure workplaces and businesses are more resilient and better equipped to adapt to constant technological change.

“By using cutting edge neuroscience, we can discover what makes successful founders, teams and companies. For example, studying what makes someone resilient to setbacks, and how different people cope with the uncertainty that is inherent to any innovative venture.”

The lab, a 300-square-metre custom built centre with virtual reality rooms, testing stations, brain stimulation devices, neuroimaging tech and research offices, will be used to develop products such as customised cognitive tests for start-ups and psychological interventions and online education programs.

“Using technology such as gamified objective tests and mobile brain measurement, we will be able to develop tests that measure traits and abilities like creativity, resilience, tolerance for ambiguity, imagination, intuition and leadership,” says Professor Pearson. “These tests will help us develop tools to help businesses transform and operate more effectively.


"We will be able to develop tests that measure traits and abilities like creativity, resilience, tolerance for ambiguity, imagination, intuition and leadership": Professor Joel Pearson says of the new lab.

“The lab will develop science-backed hiring apps and tools that can measure diverse traits and abilities. These tools will leverage the latest machine learning algorithms to assess job candidates’ fit for specific roles and organisations.”

An example of a tool in development is the platform Thinklytic, designed by Future Minds Lab and innovation consultancy Fusion Labs, which combines neuroscience-based games and machine learning to revolutionise the hiring process. The Thinklytic platform is designed to reduce the time, inaccuracy, and gamble of hiring by helping organisations to identify the candidates suited for certain roles.

The lab will also develop educational workshops and online courses to bring together principles of psychology, cognitive neuroscience to better understand of how people identify and solve problems and think creatively.

“Workshops will be delivered to start-up founders that aim to increase their resilience and stress management techniques, decrease burnout, and help founders enhance their mental fitness,” says Professor Pearson.

Other industry linked projects being developed include an evaluation of a program to reduce technological distractions and maximise deep work and psychological interventions designed to improve leadership skills and conflict management, development of tech to measure and track human conflict and a range of services and products for the future of work.

“Many people in the workforce are feeling fear and anxiety around the uncertainty of constant change. The key to a prosperous future is understanding how to prepare our minds for the changes we are all facing,” says Professor Pearson.

The Future Minds Lab is an initiative of UNSW’s 2025 Strategy, and uses interdisciplinary collaborations with researchers in a variety of disciplines. The lab is a partnership between UNSW Science and Enterprise.