“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent van Gogh
When I was very young, I couldn’t read. But then, in second grade, I was lucky enough to have a brilliant teacher who took me under her wing and brute forced reading into me. After that, I never had a book out of my hands. Even though that problem was fixed, by year 10 I’d convinced myself – with the help of some pretty terrible grades – that I couldn’t do math. Once again, a brilliant teacher stepped in and brute forced me. And now I can do math and can even program computers a little bit…
The point is, lots of people and companies describe themselves as “not innovative”. But there’s no such thing as “not innovative”, no matter who you are. First, just try. You may or may not succeeed, but if you fail, then get a brilliant teacher. Sometimes, brute force – just a little bit – is all that’s needed.
“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”—Clay Shirky
Now, this is a very interesting take on things. Normally, one imagines that institutions perserve their answer to problems no matter the cost. That’s what decent, steady managers are suppposed to do, right? But Clay’s quote goes right to the heart of things. Good, steady managers have a vested interesting in making sure their problem sticks around to preserve their own interests. I love this quote, because it perfectly encapuslates the reasons why being an innovator is just such hard work: you’re not trying just to improve or change things your organization is doing right now, you’re trying to reframe its whole environmental context.
“The only thing all successful people have in common is that they’re successful, so don’t waste your time copying “the successful strategies” of others.” -Seth Godin
And the only thing successful innovators have in common is they’re successful. There is some value in best practice, and copying what’s worked someone else, but in the end, each innovation problem is fresh, new, and deserves its own solution. How could it not be? Innovation is a people problem and if there’s one thing about people, and groups of people, they’re always surprisingly unique.
“The stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” – unknown
And industries aren’t disrupted because they’ve run out of widgets. For the caveman, the failure was to fail to see the coming age of bronze. For we modern innovators, the failure is to fail to remember that after broze came iron, then steam, then, then and then…
It is easy, and short term it is less risky, to pretend the only threat to your present secure situation is making sure you have enough stones.
“I am not afraid…I was born to do this.” – Joan of Arc
Show me an innovator who does not take risks, and I will point to a line manager who does not innovate. There is significant personal risk involved in trying to change things. You either accept it, and try anyway, or you accept the status quo.
It is reasonable to be aware of – and fearful of – consequences. What’s unreasonable is to be unfearful of the status quo, which for most companies and most people is a much greater threat than change in the long term.