Friday, November 13, 2009

Why I love innovation

Innovation produces many economic benefits. It generates many new products and creature comforts. On those merits alone it ought to be greatly valued.

But the truth is that although I enjoy these benefits of innovation, they are not the primary cause of my passion for innovation.

The reason I care so much about innovation is that innovation reflects the natural state of the human soul. (I'm using "innovation" as a verb here.) The human soul seeks to understand. It seeks to improve the world based on that understanding. It craves beauty, excellence, dignity and nobility. It pursues truth.

When people are stifled in their attempts to express the natural desire of their souls, they become depressed in a way. You can see them in their robotic drone-like state in many organizations. They become listless. They go through the motions but there is no real passion behind what they do. As Thoreau said "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." These people are more predictable. They are more easily managed. But they are barely human.

Setting up organizations to allow, or even encourage, people to pursue the natural desires of their souls leads to many salutary benefits. Most immediately, it breathes life and passion back into the quietly desperate. These newly energized people are happy. Not in some superficial sense of having the material comforts they need and a lack of external pressure. They are truly happy in the profoundest sense of the term. They are fully engaged. They are maximally productive. They might not be producing exactly what you wanted them to produce but, in the aggregate, they best contribute to human progress and towards the creation, development and maintenance of the most beautiful, noble, excellent and dignified world we can possibly have.

Oh yeah, they also turn out some really cool products and generate all that economic activity that makes the bean-counters happy.


marci said...

Adam - love how you phrase it - innovation reflects the natural state of the human soul. Totally agree, and I'm wondering if you'd be open to include creativity in your musings.

It may be a chicken and egg thing, still, wondering how you feel about creativity, thought of a new ideas and new decisions, preceding innovation, currently considered as the new ideas being put into action. Which of course, then trigger inspiration for other new ideas, and so on.

Totally agree that when creativity is given space in organizations it allows for greater productivity. There's research and case studies that support it.

Organizations that celebrate World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 - 21 report that when the staff, employees, associates, etc are engaged in learning about ways to tap their natural energies to unleash the power of their creative imagination, generate new ideas and make new decisions, through workshops, activities, lectures, contests, etc., the their spirits are renewed, they emerge refreshed and the quality of work that follows is higher, more focused and inspired beyond the drudgery of the same-old-same-old day to day thinking and acting.

What's special about World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 - 21 is that the purpose is to celebrate creativity and innovation and not to necessarily tie it directly to a business outcome; in a phrase fun, and not just for fun because we know with the pause and refresh, results to accrue shortly after. It's how the brain has been shown to work.

Innovation is a good thing, as you say; it keeps the bean counters happy. To me what's really the essence is enabling the human spirit space and room to express, explore, discover, use curiosity, wonder, as a necessary part of the innovation process. Before the rubber can hit the road (innovation), we need a road, and we need the rubber (creativity).

Adam said...

Marci: Thanks so much for your comment. I totally agree. I tend to use the word "innovation" not just to describe the outputs but to describe the behaviors - inclusive of creativity - that lead to those outputs.

I know the innovation industry prefers to use the term "innovation" to describe business results. I think they do that in order to justify their existence to the bean counters. To tell them that it's all about the money and not just goofiness. I'm OK with that. But for me, I'm not afraid of using the term more broadly.

It is the wonderful human mind, spirit, heart and soul that has given us so many of the wonderful things we now enjoy - including our basic scientific understanding of our world. And while certainly some of that was produced with the profit motive front and center, I believe most of it was just people inspired to seek out the truth and bring it to bear on the world.

This is what we need to do in business as well. Just get out of the damn way. Let people be people. Give them the resources they need. And let the magic happen.