Innovation, that mythical activity that results in both incremental and exponential progress gets a lot of attention in the business press. From small business leaders to corporate leaders, they all want it in some way; but most don’t know what it is and how it actually happens.
Most organizations go through the motions of innovation; a small percentage actually go through the grind of it. Why? Because innovation is the opposite of the predictable, day-to-day, business-as-usual; it’s unpredictable and unusual.
Most business leaders get unmotivated and discouraged when you frame innovation this way because they want predictability, not a new business model that challenges the status quo. Because challenging the status quo means driving change; this is why most business leaders pay lip service to innovation.
Conventional results come from conventional-minded people. Exponential results come from mavericks.
Innovation comes down to people, not technology. That is people with a certain set of traits that drives innovation in any environment. To give you an idea of what this looks like, here’s a short story comparing two fictional people: Alex and Emma.
In the bustling city of Veritopia, there were two people: Alex and Emma.
Alex was known for being a diligent rule-follower, always staying within the lines, and preferring the comfort of predictability. Emma, on the other hand, was a free-spirited maverick who constantly challenged boundaries, created new lanes, and fearlessly took risks.
In Veritopia, innovation was highly valued, and many admired Emma’s boldness and unconventional approach to life. She had a knack for thinking outside the box and pushing the limits of what was considered possible. Emma’s audacious nature led her to explore uncharted territories and pursue ideas that others deemed too risky or unattainable.
Meanwhile, Alex was respected for their consistency and reliability. They excelled in following established procedures, ensuring that tasks were executed flawlessly, and maintaining a stable environment. Alex’s attention to detail and adherence to the rules earned them a reputation for dependability, but they rarely ventured beyond the familiar.
As time went on, Veritopia faced a series of challenges and changing landscapes. The city needed innovative solutions to adapt and thrive in the face of these new realities. It was during this transformative period that Emma’s true potential shone. Her willingness to break the rules and take risks allowed her to explore unconventional ideas and experiment with different approaches. Emma’s fresh perspective and creative thinking inspired others to question the status quo and explore uncharted territories.
While Alex’s reliability and adherence to rules had their merits, their predictability limited their ability to adapt and respond to the evolving needs of Veritopia. They found themselves constrained by existing frameworks and struggled to see beyond the confines of what was known and comfortable.
Ultimately, it was Emma’s ability to embrace uncertainty, challenge norms, and take calculated risks that drove innovation in Veritopia. Her unconventional approach opened up new possibilities, sparked creativity in others, and enabled the city to evolve in the face of change.
Yes, ChatGPT gave me this story; I think it does the job of explaining the point. Anyway…
The story of Alex and Emma demonstrates that while adherence to rules and predictability have their place, it is often the risk-takers and rule-breakers who drive innovation. By venturing into uncharted territories, questioning established norms, and embracing uncertainty, these individuals are more likely to discover groundbreaking solutions and create new paths for progress.
Of course, this won’t surprise you if you’ve read the biographies of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and other mavericks. The point of this story is to advise and show that you’ve got to create an environment in your organization that breeds and attracts people with these traits.
What are those traits?
Below is a table that compares the traits of Alex and Emma:
|Attitude||Conventional, risk-averse||Unconventional, risk-taking|
|Creativity||Limited by adherence to rules||Flourishes in breaking the rules|
|Adaptability||Prefers stability and routine||Embraces change and thrives in it|
|Problem-Solving||Methodical and follows established processes||Thinks outside the box, explores new approaches|
|Innovation||Relies on existing knowledge and established methods||Challenges norms, generate fresh ideas|
|Comfort Zone||Prefers familiarity and known territory||Thrives in uncertainty and pushes boundaries|
|Influence||Respected for reliability and dependability||Inspires others through their daring nature|
|Risk-Taking||Cautious and risk-averse||Fearless and willing to take calculated risks|
|Originality||Strives for conformity and predictability||Embraces uniqueness and embraces individuality|
|Change||Prefers stability and minimal disruption||Embraces change as an opportunity for growth|
Most organizations have a lot of Alexs’. As a leader, do you have the traits of Alex or Emma? If not you, then who on your team has these traits? How are you encouraging and supporting them? Is your organization hiring Emmas’ of Alexs’? Are you actively creating an environment that celebrates, encourages, and supports Emmas’?
How you answer these questions says a lot about how much you value innovation.
To finish, remember these three key ideas:
- Innovation is another code word for leadership.
- Leaders don’t delegate innovation, they drive it.
- The number one thing you can do right now to drive innovation in your organization is to eliminate what inhibits it and celebrate, encourage, and support what drives it.
Bottom line: Innovation requires a willingness to step outside of the comfort zone, challenge conventional wisdom, and take calculated risks. By doing so, individuals like Emma can inspire change, adapt to new circumstances, and propel societies forward into the realms of possibility and growth.