Ocean Freighter or Canoe?

I’m tired, I’m cranky, I need a good laugh. 

While there are some who might envy those who are self-employed, the reality is that it comes with long hours and sleepless nights. On the flip side, it comes with many advantages and the truth is I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For sure working for a bureaucracy comes with more security and a pension, but even so I’m not sure I could ever go back. As I recently explained to a colleague, it’s akin to the difference between trying to steer a highly loaded ocean freighter and a nimble, flexible canoe. The canoe is far easier to manage and much better able to respond to new issues, ideas, and change. In other words, far more conducive to being able to create and work within a culture of innovation. 

So what exactly is a culture of innovation and how to we get one?

A culture of innovation is an environment or a vibe that is conducive to leading edge or breakthrough thinking, collaboration, and the nimble implementation of new ideas.

It’s also important to think about what it isn’t. Anyone who has worked in an organization that isn’t innovative can give you an idea of how to recognize the lack of it.

If you work in a place where people are bemused by your ideas or you often hear the phrase, “you can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way”, chances are there isn’t a lot of innovation going on. Likewise if you can’t remember the last time anything happened that was really cool - the kind of happening that you’d want to share with your family and friends over dinner.

If your organization tends to spend most of their time focused on process rather than success, or, if there is a heavy emphasis on budget cuts and the dollars for training and development continue to be reduced, you’re also at-risk for a lack of innovation. Other indicators of a lack of innovation just might be an excess of baby boomers, little diversity, and few people under the age of 30. 

But perhaps most indicative of a lack of innovation will be the management style.

Innovative organizations and businesses are not bureaucracies run by managers. Instead they have leaders who work with both their internal and external stakeholders, including a genuinely involved workforce, to develop a compelling vision for their future, clear values and priorities, and a pretty flat hierarchy to make it happen.

Innovative organizations and companies act differently. In these organizations ideas flow freely, both success and failure are championed, and innovation is encouraged and supported throughout the organization. This will also result in innovations being celebrated on a regular basis and the word “innovation” being reflected in planning initiatives, policies, and job descriptions.

You will also know you’re part of an innovative organization or company by the sheer number of innovators.

How will you recognize an innovator?

The innovators will be those who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo if they don’t like what currently exists. They will be those who understand the importance of vision and dreams, and who will expand their own comfort zones and take risks to inspire new thinking. Innovators will be okay with appearing foolish, the risk of not looking good in the eyes of others, and living with uncertainty and chaos.

Innovators will, without exception, be committed to hard work, ongoing communication, lifelong learning, and will practice a combination of intuition, research and analysis.

These innovators will be people thriving within an environment that places an emphasis on thinking constantly about how to do things better and differently. New ideas will be seen as a critical investment and rather than saying “it can’t be done,” people will be asking, “how can we make this happen?”

Posted on 02-11-14


It is so rewarding to watch those people who avow “we have always done it this way” make the slow swing around to where they come up with new ideas and ask me or ask the village in general “How can we make this happen?”  What a cool transition. I love the analogy of the freighter and the canoe!!

•Posted by Michele Geistlinger  on  02/18/14  at  11:26 AM

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