Are We Responsible Revolutionaries?
On this July Fourth, we celebrate and find inspiration in the revolutionary legacy of 1776. Like most patterns of revolution, after periods of oppression by out-of-touch power structures, a constructive curiosity about what “can be” eventually overcomes a group of people. This shared purpose drives them together to create something of better value for the group overall. Thankfully, our founding fathers honored and exercised their constructive curiosity 238 years ago by asking the question, “What could this country really stand for?”
2014 is not 1776
2014 is a very different time, with very different struggles and very different strategies, but the same patterns of transition and revolution exist. There are groups of people who have amassed power within the system, and some of whom are so myopically focused on maintaining that power and control (at all costs) that they are no longer curious or concerned about the broader health of the system itself. We see this impetus behind many revolutions in the USA today happening inside of great corporations — some just starting, some stalled and some are gaining sustainable momentum. Many corporate communities of human beings have realized that the cost of NOT doing enough (in the face of system imbalance) is higher than the cost of taking greater risk to exercise that constructive curiosity in order to accelerate the transition between the certainty of the now and the eventuality of what’s next.
The last decade has unified the unavoidable commonalities of status quo-challenging wishes like these (paraphrased below) from senior leaders inside of Fortune 1000 companies:
- I wish we could reduce the level of governance, organizational guardrails and control to enable an environment where innovation and growth can flourish.
- I wish we were supported to get closer to our customer and therefore anticipate their most important needs better.
- I wish there were a greater passion for collective success versus departmental victories in the performance of day-to-day work.
The strategic innovation revolution is happening.
Innovation Lore: Fact or Fiction?
But when you listen to the stories from well-known innovators, you will get the impression that they, for the most part, have all been involuntary recruits to the worthy cause of innovation. From the vantage point of hindsight, after the battle to upend the current paradigm is over, each of the “celebrity” innovators claim some moment of foresight, divine inspiration or heroic call that gave them the power to go against the status quo.
What space does that leave the rest us inspired and empowered innovation mortals? The reality is that one person cannot take the credit. Revolution only happens when enough of us work together, inclusively, to free ourselves from the old constraints in favor of more strategic possibilities. How do you become an innovation revolutionary? Is it even a good idea to expect constant revolution when there is a huge amount of change occurring globally to accommodate the 7 billion humans trying to make 70-plus years of life interesting and fulfilling?
Definable, Learnable Best Practices
Everything is so complex and interconnected that it requires us to be strategic and disciplined about change. This increased demand for change and for creating “new” (i.e., products, services, business models, experiences) has catalyzed a specialized profession of value creation that many people call innovation management or design thinking.
If you want to change the world and join/lead that revolution, there is a responsible way and an irresponsible way to take action. We find that the responsible/strategic innovation leaders role model these 10 commitments and we love working with them because they are more effective. The inverse of these statements are characteristic of irresponsible revolutionaries who tend to show up as counterproductive, distracting, chaotic troublemakers. Nobody’s got time to deal with that when we are working on a purposeful revolution.
The Innovation Revolutionary Oath
Taking the following oath will help make you/me/all of us more successful, responsible innovation revolutionaries:
- Innovators shall seek out and study innovation as an emerging professional service. We shall choose a university that has put forth the effort to curate the broadest thinking around innovation (e.g., Stanford, Northwestern, IIT, CEDIM), critical thinking, creative problem solving and corporate management.
- Innovators shall practice innovation techniques without the expectation that we will innovate.
- Innovators shall befriend people unlike themselves who share the urgency to confront change with innovation. We will meet with them in person, not just online. We will encourage action rather than debate methodology.
- Innovators shall use innovation to solve problems AND find opportunity. We will avoid turning it into rhetoric that we use to impress others or justify our inclusion in strategic initiatives.
- Innovators shall believe that there are plenty of things working well in the system now, and we will make sure that our solutions work with them rather than always assuming the need for a complete system reboot.
- Innovators shall not turn innovation into a mystical state of being, mystery or “black box.” It is a discipline. We should be disciplined in learning about it and practicing it. If no one understands how we got to our conclusion, we fail.
- Innovators shall not turn innovation into a holy quest. It is one of many options to create value in a business.
- Innovators shall not turn innovation into a pure scientific process. As much as there are clear methodologies, it is still dependent on the empathic talents of people.
- Innovators shall not turn innovation into a lost childhood talent. Although kids are very creative, they don’t have the pressure of market dynamics or even physics to constrain them.
- Innovators shall not be worried if our mothers think we are inventors. Most new disciplines are understood by comparison and “inventor” is close enough.
This article was inspired by a presentation by Massimo Leone on “How to Become a Semiotician,” which is another emerging field that seeks to understand how we create meaning.
The more of us who are ready to answer the call of innovation, the further we will all get.
If you took the oath and are curious about how other professionals like you experience innovation in the world, join the LinkedIn group Revolutionary Innovation Leadership Development and share your point of view.
Viva la Revolución!