I’m so tired of the word “innovation”. Everyone is innovating, today. You can’t go online without seeing the word “innovation” mentioned in leadership tomes, articles on doing business in the 21st century, and especially on blogs.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dispute the need for innovation. It’s the talk-talk-talk about it that has me seeing red. Much like the chatter about blogs just a few short years ago, discussions involving “innovation” seem to be endless chatter, lacking motivation. With blogs, the prevailing advice was to start one, have one, explore one. In 2006, the “blogs” threatened to take over the world, and if you weren’t with the bloggers, you were against’em, which meant they weren’t going to shop at your store, or hire you for consulting, or engage in conversation with you.
Here’s the rub – blogs did take over, but non-bloggers were able to engage by following, not necessarily doing. Facebook and Twitter gave us innovative tools to embrace the concept of real-time communication and engagement, and blogs now play a supporting role. This is not true of innovation. Innovation accomplishes something exciting, forward thinking, and game-changing – when acted upon. The talk, talk, talk of innovation does nothing. Ignore the actual work of it, and you risk true failure.
This is where I hit the dictionary and give you a standard definition of innovation – at least, that’s what you might be expecting. Instead, why don’t you tell me what innovation is? Is it uniqueness wrapped in gold foil? Is it originality wrapped in ribbon? Is it taking the path less travelled?
Here’s what I think: innovation is hard work. It’s not defined by a dictionary. It’s defined by people doing something. Innovation is taking the new ideas rattling around in your head, whether they make sense or not, and acting on them. Innovation is not being afraid to fail – not allowing the thought of failure to stop you from fulfilling your destiny. Yes, I believe it’s our destiny to be innovative. I believe people have to innovate to stay alive.
Creating true innovation requires courage. Being unique, standing out from the crowd, going where no business leader has gone before, requires passion and sometimes arrogance. Boldness comes to mind. “I’m going to do this,” in the face of adversity and naysaying friends, family, colleagues. Innovation comes on the heels of being a bricoleur.
Bricoleurs get things done. They don’t whine about not having enough money or supplies or extra hands. They don’t cry about working late or getting up at 5 a.m. They don’t spend hours contemplating their navel, hoping a new idea will come to them. And, they don’t hold focus groups.
In some instances, meditation (gazing at your navel), can spark innovative ideas. But, if you aren’t innovative to begin with, navel gazing will likely just convince you to continue on the path you’re on – with a focus on the safety of security. Lee Thayer, author, teacher, and leadership guru taught me well when he advised our CEO Group that security will kill you. There is no innovation in that warm blankie on a soft sofa – if security is your goal, innovation is not on your mind. You must embrace necessity – the necessity of “new” and “different.” Thayer learned it on the farm. I learned it waiting in the unemployment line. Where will you learn it?
Bruce Nussbaum in his December 2008 article “Innovation is Dead” on Businessweek.com writes: “In the end, ‘innovation’ proved to be weak as both a tactic and strategy in the face of economic and social turmoil.” His solution is “transformation”… the creation of global networks, trusted relationships, and humanizing technology. It would seem that innovation is a people problem, but not, I think, a people plural as much as a people singular, problem.
We may, as Nussbaum does, connect the people to a ‘network’ believing in the “wisdom of crowds.” But, at its core, innovation pulses within individuals – who act on it. The reason there is no innovation in today’s business world is because the individual people in charge of it relegated it to the bottom of someone’s desk drawer, under the leftover lunch bag, hidden by manila folders full of data no one cares about anymore. They put it there to get it out of the way – because it was too difficult to deal with. It required too much thought! Too much action! And, it required accountability! Easier to push it aside and dress up old ideas in new wrappings, and call them innovative.
The solution, then, is to pull it out of that desk drawer and give it to people who care. Give it to the individuals who understand the idea of necessity, of embracing the opportunity to fail, of adopting the mindset of a bricoleur. Else, crawl back on the sofa with your blankie and watch the world go away.
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About the Author: Yvonne DiVita, President of Windsor Media Enterprises, LLC: Books, Blogs and Beyond, is focused on consulting with businesses on how to effectively use new media tools. She blogs at LipSticking, with a focus on the women’s market.