I’ve never been big on New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t find them very motivating and apparently I’m not alone, judging by the number of people who crowd into my health club in January who are gone by April. Resolutions just don’t stick with me. So I’ve been musing about finding an innovative way to practice this tradition. The answer I’ve come up with: Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, why not a New Year’s Vision?
“There are no atheists in fox holes,” the old saw goes. It’s an assertion that no doubt offends atheists, who I assume hold their beliefs with the same conviction as anyone else. I have a similar observation to make about innovation (one that I don’t think will offend anyone): There are no unbelievers among innovators.
We don’t yet understand the inner workings of our brains well enough to guide the prescribe of innovation processes and techniques. But we do understand what attitudes, assumptions and beliefs are productive and counterproductive. And that may be even more useful.
We hear a lot these days about mass customization as a consumer trend, about how technology now allows us to mass produce products that are customized to the needs and desires of individual consumers. So, why stop with consumer products? To fuel innovation, we need to be talking about mass customization...of people.
What’s your personal theory of knowledge? Is it something that gives you answers or possibilities? Of course, the short answer is, “Yes.” But if you had to choose, if you had to state a preference, I suspect you could, and for many it would be: answers. Not that most of us have given this a great deal of thought. It’s what’s known as an implicit theory, a largely subconscious belief, but one that nonetheless impacts how we think and behave—and how well we innovate.
With the passing of Steve Jobs and with it recent reminders of how not only bright and creative, but arrogant and obnoxious he could be, I got to thinking: Why are great innovators at times so insufferable?
Under Steve Jobs, Apple became what by almost all accounts has been the most successfully innovative company in the world. Now Apple faces what may be an even more daunting challenge: continuing with that innovation success without Steve Jobs. Isn’t that innovation’s Holy Grail? Isn’t that what the whole field of innovation is trying to figure out: how to build an organization that can produce the kind of success of an Apple…without having a world class genius at the helm? I have some hunches as to how...
In his acclaimed bestseller, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about what he calls the “Flywheel Effect.” He describes how small actions and decisions, made over a period of time, add up to sustained momentum and success for great companies—like small nudges building momentum on a flywheel. I agree and riffing on his metaphor, I would add that our flywheel can be turning in either direction. It’s possible that a series of seemingly small decisions and incremental actions can gradually undermine our success. So the key question becomes: Which direction is your flywheel turning?
There’s a prevalent and long-perpetuated myth about innovators, that they are persistent; they don’t give up. Renowned innovators like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison have even said it of themselves, crediting their success in part on their persistence. But it’s at best a poor choice of words and at worst a fundamental misunderstanding of what innovation entails, even by some of its best practitioners.
“The greatest thing since sliced bread,” implies a kind of automatic acceptance that wasn't true then and isn't now. As someone who embraces innovation, it pains me to say it but apparently some things don’t change, at least not very much. Winning acceptance of any new idea is far from automatic.