There’s a new Big Three driving our economy now. They are Curiosity, Imagination and Failure.
The demise of the former Big Three (Chrysler, Ford and GM) was as inevitable as the fall of empires and the rise of the sun. Mature corporations in mature markets seek to maximize profits by standardizing products with unremarkable features to maximize efficiency (and profits) from their outdated infrastructure.
Management’s perspective here is understandable. Bereft of remarkable products, this is a company’s only choice. And, management’s standard role in these companies has been limited to maximizing consistency, enforcing rules, ensuring standards.
The irony is that by streamlining their business model to seek maximum profits from maximizing only standardized production routines they ceded control to events beyond their boardrooms.
And in doing so, they lost the means to revitalize, re-create, re-inspire, re-connect … renew their business in the face of changing consumer demands.
The pace of this change from industry leaders with dazzling products priced fat with profit-margins into commodity-hell, competing with unremarkable products pushed onto consumers using bloated advertising budgets will only increase. It’s already happening.
A company, a national economy, will sustain itself by creating a constant flow of innovations: new products, new services, new solutions, new corporate structures.
But that’s a process of constant failure. You have to create a constant flow of failures. Failure is the key to innovation. It’s the key to generating ideas, and you need a lot of ideas as most will fail.
Our reward system focuses on success and achievements. Yet, failure is the often overlooked milestone of progress towards success. Here’s a short video, 1:40 long, that touches on the early failures of 5 individuals globally-recognized as successes.
Any innovative process that creates a constant stream of successful new products, new services, new solutions is creating an even greater and more constant stream of failures.
Failure will lead our economy now.
To supply this constant demand for new products, and a greater number of failures, employees will need curiosity. Cogs in the wheel will no longer add the value a company needs to sustain a source of new ideas. Curiosity will. That employee who constantly asks … what if, what would happen, how about, should I, why did that happen, does it happen every time, do we need that? That employee … is the star of this system moving forward.
And curiosity goes hand in hand with imagination. Curiosity is the point value for the holistic, synthetic, reasoning of imagination. What’s happening today will end soon. Sooner each day. What’s happening … next year? That will be the question. The ones who can imagine the next chapter in the story … who can imagine what their company could be like … when this newest product becomes commoditized…. Those will be the leaders.
That’s different than today’s leaders who could execute a 5-year business plan.
And to do that two things need to happen:
1. Corporate leadership will need to unlearn its dependence on a top-down, command and control, structure. This will be tough. Too many corporate structures created vested interests for their leaders in this system. But consider Ricardo Semler, CEO of SEMCO SA who was recently awarded by his company for his lack of decision-making; he hadn’t made a decision in 10 years. And as a result his company grew from $30 million to $200 million in 6 years. His employees made the decisions. Now, what executive wouldn’t want a system of vested interests from those results.
2. Our educational system will need to change to encourage students maintaining their passion for learning, their curiosity in life and their imagination abilities. Standardized tests will play but one role in our future education systems.
These aren’t just my ideas:
- Mike Wagner, CEO of White Rabbit Group, recently explained how to turn employees into volunteers. Using SEMCO’s example, the employees volunteered to make all the decisions…and look what happened.
- Angela Maiers shared her thoughts about the 6 Classroom Habitudes needed for the 21st century. One was curiosity; the first one was imagination.
- Katie Konrath reminded us of the role of failure in driving innovation.
- We’ve recently dropped to 6th among industrialized nations for our innovativeness. And in terms of the ability to create competitive growth, we’re last. Coincidentally, our economy is imploding.
- It’s imperative we create structures and leadership and companies that resume our leadership among industrialized nations in the area of … innovation.
- To do this, we need a new Big Three: Curiosity, Imagination and Failure. We’re strong on failure right now.
- Unleashing curiosity and imagination can turn that strength in failure into a source of new ideas and growth.