small to medium sized companies, mostly private.
Coming from a background of
advising much larger, publicly-traded organizations, I found the change refreshing. In smaller businesses, things happen quicker, ideas flow more freely and the
atmosphere is often more invigorating.
Still, I've detected a sentiment, a feeling, sometimes verbalized,
but mostly unvoiced. As business begins to boom, or, more accurately,
reboom, and the danger of survival is replaced with success and more
abundant resources, it goes something like this:
Our problem is that the entrepreneurial spirit isn't quite what
is was when we were a start-up. Sometimes it's completely M.I.A. More
and more we seem to need more money, people, and space to innovate. But
that's not how we started. So we didn't start in the
proverbial attic or garage, but we started with little of everything: money,
space, labor. We had a goal, and a passion for reaching it. Those limits
made us more creative and resourceful than we are today. Today, the
addiction to resources is blocking innovation.
you) fix. But before I get there, let me try something with you. Ready?
Stand up, feet planted shoulder width apart, arms straight out at
your sides, elbows locked.
Twist your torso all the way to right as far as you possibly can
Sight down your right arm and mentally mark your stopping point on
the wall. Remember that mark.
Turn back around to face front. Now close your eyes.
Repeat the exercise, stopping when you think you’ve met your
previous stopping point.
NOW...go a little past it. Open your eyes.
generally don't know what our potential is until we put our capacity
on trial. We don't stretch as much as think we can. The
recession put everyone's capacity to the test, but as the economy rebounds, and even keel
returns, we need to constantly stretch and restretch our capacity in
positive ways to move the business forward.
What's the solution?
I think it's that we have to treat resources constraints the same
way artists do. All artists work within the confines of their chosen media,
and it's the limits that spur their creativity. The canvas edge, the
marble block, the eight musical notes -- the resources are finite. They
always are! So it's how we view and manage them that makes all the
difference. And that's the billion dollar question: Are limits
preventing innovation, or enabling it?
A team that doesn't thrive on the challenge of limitations is a red
flag. It signals an inherent fear of failure in your company. And that
spells danger for innovation, because most real innovation springs from
failure and conflict. The bigger and more successful a company gets, the
less they have tolerance for either. So they mismanage a valuable source of
new thinking by adding a buffer zone: higher budgets, more layers, and lower
thinking that produces the extraordinary results needed to add value and
keep competitors at bay. In fact, success can often generate a defensive
posture that discourages the very behavior that created it. It can
absolutely stifle innovation.
Innovation -- the specific tool of the entrepreneur -- demands
exploiting limits, not ignoring them!
So if the entrepreneurial spirit is fading or mission in your business,
reset the bar by recreating the kinds of limitations that drive new
thinking. Those limitations are called stretch goals -- big, hairy,
audacious goals. Or, as they are perhaps more commonly known, ="http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/the-world/article/how-to-set-
Then trust your team to solve the problem.
Matthew E. May is a design and innovation strategist. You can follow him
on Twitter http://twitter.com/matthewemay">here.