On Being Innovative

Much as I try to turn my brain off while on vacation, sometimes the extra time to think makes it next to impossible. This week in sunny Cabos San Lucas even the tangy margaritas fail to keep the synapses from firing.

I’m especially struck by the innovation, resourcefulness, and drive I see among young Mexican entrepreneurs.

On the beaches they hawk eye-catching purses woven from strips of recycled juice box containers as well as bracelets made from plastic stir sticks wrapped with thread and then custom embroidered with one’s name. 

Since my current work is largely about innovation and the leadership it requires, it made me wonder not only if we ourselves are modeling it, but also how it might be manifested and recognized within a business or organization.

I know for sure I’ve worked within organizations where there was a lack of innovation.

They were the ones where new ideas were either laughed at or responded to with, “No we tried that years ago and it didn’t work” or “You can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way”.

They were also the organizations where I learned that being vocal about a problem wasn’t always well-received and that even when there was consensus about a problem, the innovation required to solve it was seen as being the domain of management rather than that of the collective.

Too often there seemed to be far more interest in policies, procedures and maintaining the status quo than there was in taking advantage of trends and issues. When faced with tough times, the typical first step was to reduce the budget lines supporting professional development, research, and new initiatives.

But perhaps the key sign of a lack of innovation was that there wasn’t much happening within the organization to get anyone excited.  When asked, “What’s new?” it was tough to come up with an answer.

On the other hand, innovative companies and organizations display a different set of characteristics.

In addition to encouraging ideas, innovative organizations tangibly approve, support and endorse them. Rather than saying “it can’t be done”, the more typical response is “how can we make this happen”?
Innovative organizations are also those where creativity is championed as a strong and clearly articulated value. The word innovation is typically found in the organization’s vision and mission statement, and within many position descriptions.  It’s also likely that in addition to there being a lot of baby boomers around, there are a lot of people under the age of 30.  Employees never seem to be bored and often suggest that if you are, you should just wait five minutes.

In these organizations thinking about how to do things differently is embedded within their culture. Apple Computer embraced innovation with their 1997 advertising slogan “Think Different” and maintains it to this day.

The text that accompanied that campaign has become something of a mantra for innovators around the world.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”.


Posted on 04-19-09


Wow,  I love that quote.

•Posted by Heather O'Hearn  on  04/22/09  at  02:26 PM

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