Innovate and Die?

There is a Buddhist parable that tells of a man swept into the waters of a raging river. In panic he grasps for something solid – a rock!  Holding on with terrified certainty he drowns, burdened by the extra weight.  Burdened as well by his unwillingness to let go, to try something equally terrifying but full of promise – his survival.

How many of us are in similar situations?  We face a myriad of tough environmental, financial and social challenges as a society.  Our specific organization, institution or department faces emerging challenges on top of the ones that persist, all seemingly invincible to our best efforts. And funding challenges loom larger and larger.  Yet we continue to float on the momentum of outmoded approaches.  We keep ourselves busy; we re-organize; we refresh with new consultants; we establish new standards of performance.  But we don't change. Not fundamentally. 

You'd think the consequence of committing innovation was death.  We are risk averse.  As a result our organizations slowly die by omission rather than commission. We are fascinated with the 'new' but we wait until someone else has done all the work, has stuck their neck out.  We speak about the need to innovate; to look at things differently; to be courageous.  Yet we hold onto the rock.  Afraid of the consequences. 

Here are some ideas for 'letting go' of old patterns of thinking and behaviour:

  • Take a course in design thinking.  Check
    out Italy's Ezio Manzini
    or Canada's Bruce Mau . See Bruce's Massive
  • Re-design your services from your
    membership or constituency's point of view.  For example, give cameras to
    people with disabilities like the Burnaby Association for
    Community Living
  • Explore three things every week where you might be wrong
  • Encourage 'stupid' questions
  • Allocate .05% of your budget for 'research and development; for exploring new ways of doing things; for encouraging a host of small scale, modest innovations; for letting a 1000 flowers bloom
  • Discover what the 'mavericks' in your organization are thinking
  • If you are a Foundation, create an Innovation Fund to give the wild, unpredictable ideas out there a chance to take root
  • If you are Government, establish an internal committee charged with the responsibility to reduce the red tape that bogs down promising ideas
  • If you are a community organization, create a Social Innovation 'Lab' bringing together business, government, community in new ways to tackle a tough issue  
  • If you are a citizen encourage and praise creative, risk taking responses from our governments and community organizations.

Our creativity is dying from
Let's create a culture where it becomes 'safe to fail' again.

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