Practicing Innovation: An Inside Job

It is a heroic adventure being an innovation practitioner. To lead an organization to where it is ready to flex its culture, business model, practices, and management style requires the types of talents and skills that only metaphors can describe: the hunting instincts of a lion, the fortitude of a buffalo, the wisdom of an owl, and the patience of a turtle.

These extra-ordinary senses indicate how much you will be challenged and tested inside your own organization. Don’t lose heart: it’s part of the experience.

Indeed, if you are creating new ways of making money you will be seen as a threat to Reign of Sameness. Given all of the internal forces actively (albeit sometimes unconsciously) working toward the failure of our work, you need these super-human powers.

You also need to remember that the practice of innovation is an inside job and takes devotion, passion, and clarity to excel. Here are some tips on the inside aspects of being an innovator.

Purpose. You need to be the type of person who is driven by purpose. This purpose-based mindset will provide you the confidence to not respond to criticism, the willpower to successfully compromise to keep projects alive, and the inspiration to encourage and empowers others to meet your goals.

Purpose helps weather storms and hurdle barriers. Purpose is a deep well of potential, too often untapped by those in the corporate and non-profit worlds.

Quiet. If you spend every second reflexively responding to organizational stimulus, your head will fill with noise. You won’t be able to think deeply or critically. You won’t be able to create any new thinking. You won’t be able to hear insights and concepts with a generative mind. Without finding that “moment in each day that Satan cannot find,” as the poet William Blake so eloquently described silence, you will never escape the death-by-email-and-powerpoint plague that keeps real work from getting done.

As I told some friends recently, take a few moments each day to look at insights, concepts, and business cases without judgment, without bias, without imposing the burden of the past onto them. If you have to trick yourself by looking them as if a different organization would launch them, do it. You cannot do this type of work without getting in that pensive, contemplative, introspective quiet place.

Curiosity. This may be the most critical inside-job quality of successful innovators. If you are not blessed with a rabid, insatiable, and systemic curiosity, you may be in the wrong field. Curiosity is the secret weapon of innovation, enabling connections that are not normally made, a questioning of orthodoxies that prohibit growth.

There is very little written on this core innate skill and its value in the workplace; however, it is how new value gets created. It’s the taproot of empathy, defining problems, ideation, and market validation—all of the core skill sets of the innovator.

Innovators need to be driven by purpose, spend some quiet time deeply thinking each day, and be afflicted with an undying curiosity to thrive.