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Three Wishes for the Corporate Innovator for 2018

Doug Collins - Saturday, November 18, 2017

My dad loved both the creative and technical aspects of photography. He loved taking pictures. And, he loved developing the images. Both activities have within them a bit of art and science. When he passed I inherited the negatives. Over time I have been shuttling the negatives to our local camera shop. The technicians there digitize them. The earliest negatives, in black and white, lend themselves well to digitization, much more so than the color images.

The top of this story has a picture he took of my mom, way back when, beside the family car. The vehicle is a behemoth. Most garages, today, would struggle to accommodate it. The car got ten miles to the gallon coasting downhill, most likely. The engine ran on leaded gasoline, poisoning the air and lowering everyone’s IQ as it lumbered down the street. The seat belt—a single lap belt, most likely—was the first and only line of defense for the passengers.

Fast forward to today. My mom’s granddaughter—my daughter—is ten (10) or so years away from getting her driver’s license. When she reaches that milestone, driving a car may be optional and may even be discouraged. The car will be electric, powered by the latest battery technology, most likely.  The risk of injury to her and others on the road will have decreased a lot through the introduction of autonomous vehicles.

I will welcome the changes. According to the Association for Safe Road Travel, 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year (3,287 deaths per day). Up to 50 million people are injured or disabled each year.

My daughter’s generation will look back and wonder how we became desensitized to the carnage.

Taking the Long View on Innovation

For all our near-term struggles in fomenting a culture of innovation within organizations, the effects of innovation, when we contemplate them over generations, seem both awesome in their breadth and relentless in their implications.

We live our lives in linear fashion, whereas the rate of change seems exponential.

In this spirit of looking beyond the near horizon, I offer the following three (3) wishes for the long term to corporate innovators, everywhere, as we reflect on the coming year.

Find a way to incorporate sustainability in your innovation practice and your program. Quartz magazine reports that in November, “The journal BioScience published the ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.’ The scientists report that humanity has ‘failed to make sufficient progress in solving foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.’ The paper’s authors are especially troubled by ‘the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production—particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption.”

Fomenting a culture of sustainability requires the same skills and perspective that you express in fomenting a culture of innovation. It’s possible to innovate in a sustainable way. It’s possible to advance sustainability through innovation. The connections between innovation and sustainability may exist implicitly within your organization, today. Make them explicit, tomorrow. The following image may be of use to you on this front in terms of visualizing connections.

Now is the time to apply the gifts that you bring to the table in your innovation practice to this pressing need. Our inattention as individuals to climate change condemns future generations to suffering and deprivation. Start by sharing with your immediate circle Jeff Goodell’s book, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World.

Find a way to include more people in your innovation practice and your program. The act of convening in an inclusive manner can and should be the most powerful and influential part of your work. The wisdom of the crowds that makes collaborative innovation possible depends on a diversity of independent thought.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview several innovation practitioners who had extended their program to include front-line employees—the thousands of people who, each day, deliver the tangible interactions with the market that make up the organization’s customer experience. These front-line employees learn a lot in the process. They learn a lot about what the customer wants. They learn a lot about the organization’s ability to meet the customer’s needs. They learn a lot about workarounds: delivering on the customer experience despite their organization’s processes and policies. And, they learn a lot about unmet needs: things the organization might do—or, products and services that the organization might offer—that could make a meaningful difference to all the parties.

These innovation practitioners are helping their organizations find their way forward by introducing a needed, bracing dose of reality to intra-firm discussions about how things are going and what problems are worth solving. The practitioners, through their act of convening, are helping their organizations connect the dots between the customer experience, associate engagement, and the work of continuous improvement.

Ask yourself: Who have I been ignoring in 2017 in not helping their voices to be heard within the organization to which we all belong? How might I extend my act of convening to include their voices in 2018?

Find a way to bring your full self to your innovation practice and program. In my work with innovation practitioners I at times see in them a desire to move towards the transactional: the numbers. The number of people engaged. The number of ideas produced. The number of ideas that turned into a tangible outcome.

The tendency is understandable. People want to be seen as productive and delivering value, not deadwood.  

And, yet, at the same time, the experienced practitioner knows that advancing the innovation practice is as much a hearts-and-minds effort as it is a foray into analytics.

The philosopher Peter Koestenbaum says, “Unless the distant goals of meaning, greatness, and destiny are addressed, we can’t make an intelligent decision about what to do tomorrow morning — much less set strategy for a company or for a human life. Nothing is more practical than for people to deepen themselves. The more you understand the human condition, the more effective you are as a businessperson. Human depth makes business sense.”

To what extent will your innovation practice and program enable people to deepen themselves—to become unstuck from whatever unproductive thinking and actions that currently monopolize their time?

Rest assured: the analytics tied to your program will never resolve themselves satisfactorily if you fail to consider how your practice helps participants make deeper meaning of their work and discern the sort of life they want to lead. Practices that hold the promise of authentic change will by their nature attract people if they see you as the practice leader embracing the larger charter in a serious way.

Best Wishes for 2018

Best wishes to you as 2017 ends and 2018 comes into view. Please drop me a line to compare notes on your aspirations and plans for the new year.

What possibilities do you see?

What gifts do you plan to bring to the table that might open doors to new opportunities for personal growth?

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