we just decided to go

Is innovation a matter of will?

we just decided to go

“Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Most of the discussion around innovation revolves around strategies, tactics and the abilities organizations need to develop to do so, but not much is said about an organizations starting point: purpose.

Whether it’s incremental or radical innovation, most organizations do none. I know, and I’m sure you do to, organizations full of very smart people with great ability but zero desire to ‘innovate’. Here we are thinking they should be tearing up, but no. Yet here we are writing/talking about specific tactics to be innovative, yet most of the time what it comes down to is if an organization decides to do it.

No doubt ability has a lot to do with one’s or a group’s ability to innovate. But, what about will? A deep sense of purpose and determined by one’s own choice.

A few weeks ago I had a great chat with Deb Scofield (@dscofield) about two of her clients and how they’ve successfully innovated in very old commodity industries. She wrote about one of them, Menasha Packaging Corp (160 year old startup) on Management Innovation Exchange.

I’ll provide the context here but please read the whole article:

In 2005, Menasha Packaging Corp (MPC), part of $1 Billion, 160 year old, Menasha Corporation, was not doing well. As the largest, and original, business in Menasha Corporation, they were a niche player in a commodity-based market without the economies of scale and scope to compete with the ‘big guys’.  If something didn’t change, they’d be sold off.  While their 160yr history as a privately-held family business provided a rich heritage, it inhibited their ability to grow because of entrenched perspectives.  The relatively new leadership team had a lot at risk – the status quo – so they embarked on the creation of a new strategic plan to move the company away from commodity to value-based products and services.  It was a bold move for a traditional company in a traditional industry. The new leadership  team, led by Mike Waite (President), was diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, experience and viewpoints.  Mike leveraged this diversity into lively discussion and debate to understand all angles of issues and create a common, shared vision.

Menasha is in very old, boring industry yet ‘they decided’ to be the cool kids on the block. What sticks out is how ‘they decided’ to change after experiencing a ‘moment of truth’ of being sold off. Win or go home! They got out of their own way and decided to win.

Closing thoughts…

Like people, organizations also lack the creativity and will to think beyond the obvious. It’s not that they can’t or won’t, it just that they haven’t decided to do so. Though a crisis may end up opening an organizations eyes, I believe it’s not needed. What’s needed is purpose from the outset. A decision to just go.

What do you think?

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  • Deb Mills-Scofield


    Thank you for the “citation”. I better get writing about the other company too! I believe Will is a key driver…it’s the decision to execute. So, here’s a question…what’s the relationship between passion and will? Can one be very passionate and not have (enough) will (I.e., execute)? I’m trying to think of examples of people or companies that had tremendous passion without will….none yet.

    Thank you!! Deb

    • Hi Deb (@dscofield),

      Can’t think of one either. I think passion and will come wrapped around together in the same package. One can not live without the other.



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  • Rich Antcliff

    I also think it can not be a half-hearted “will”. We say we want to be innovative but I am not sure we REALLY want to be.

    • Hi Rich,

      That’s a great point. For various reasons the status-quo is a more comfortable place, and changing it is not something desired by many.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Hello George!

    Great article that puts us to reflect on the power of will and that surrounds a decision! Congratulations to @ dscofield for the brilliant inspiration that she created with her article.
    I begin by agreeing wholeheartedly with the words “It’s not that they can’t or won’t, it just that they haven’t decided to do so.” However, this click or that jump often needs a push or facilitation.
    When we used to decide between A and B, and most people were educated in that sense, it is not easy to decide C, that includes earlier or at least part of them. But this is certainly an excellent choice.
    The deep sense of purpose emerges when we have clear objectives and not dispersed, but also when there is time for reflection and a good amount of stimuli to create the will.
    Actually the lack of desire to decide to innovate is the resistance to change that does not go out unless it is stimulated by the environment or in the person of a leader with will.
    Once again people are important!
    José Baldaia

    • Agree!! When people ask me what separates Menasha apart from others, it’s the people – plain and simple – one can credit strategy & innovation but those came from people – it always is the people

    • Hi Jose,

      You nailed it once again. It’s incredible how many factors can influence people’s decisions. And yes, here’s to people!



  • Ned Kumar

    Good post and points. As mentioned in my tweet yesterday, I think “will” does play a role in innovation. However, I think ‘will’ is not the root cause. The root cause is generally the culture and leadership. An organization with the right culture inbred and the right leadership will always find a way to the things they need to do to survive, innovate and grow.

    As to the question posted below on passion and ‘will’ posed by Deb – I am going to argue that they are different :-). Passion is about “like” and Will is about ‘decision & execution’. I can “will” myself to do something that I am not passionate about. Or the reverse, I can be passionate about something and “will” myself not to do it (because of family, financial or health constraints).

    Organizations (again this is purely my opinion and so feel free to shoot it down) are similar. Individuals within the organzation can be passionate about something but when it comes to the organizational will, it is more than just passion. It is about how of that passion is counterbalanced by market constraints, culture, other competiting much priorities etc. Passion by itself do not drive shareholder value and neither is it in itself enough to sustain an organization.

    Just my 2c.


    • Hi Ned (@nedkumar),

      Great comment.

      I completely agree with you (and thank you for bringing it up) that sometimes we have to ‘will’ ourselves to do something we don’t necessarily like. This is a constant in both individuals and therefore organizations. This also highlights a key difference between orgs that have reinvented themselves and those that have not, the will to do something they didn’t like. To change.

      I see passion and will as two bars that fill up and get depleted depending the situation. One is always constant, but when both are full; magic happens 😉

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Ned.


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  • Ralph Ohr

    Great post and great comments, Jorge!

    I’d also like to add some (belated) thoughts here 😉

    You have touched an increasingly important point, being valid for organizations as well as for individuals. Before action is started, a certain motivation precedes this action. If there is no (perceived) motivation to act towards a certain direction, the best capability doesn’t count anything. There is no will at all for a move or change. There are a lot of talented people not following their potential / capabilities, as they have decided someday to follow a different motivation.

    I think ‘purpose’ is a great motivator. Independently, if people or organizations (eventually built of people) are affected – purpose needs to be understood and adopted before wholehearted action can follow. This is for sure valid for innovation, too.

    This issue is pretty well reflected in Simon Sinek’s claim “Why before How and What” – I think it’s a very important message. Have a look at this video on “The Why Behind Innovation Success”:

    At the end, it’s a crucial leadership task to provide people in organizations with a purpose why they are important and how their capabilities can contribute to the company’s future success.

    Cheers, Ralph

    • Hi Ralph (@ralph_ohr),

      Could not agree with you more: The ‘Why’ drives the ‘How’ and clarifies the ‘What’. This is also part of Simon’s proposition that: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

      I do agree with Ned that sometimes ‘will’ comes into play when you’re not necessarily passionate about something, and you have to will yourself to do it. This is the case with most people/orgs that they have to ‘will’ themselves to do it.

      Thanks for the pointer to the video. I got to read Simon’s book 😉