Entries in Status Quo (6)
Heretical isn’t it? I’m just starting to wonder if some StatusQuo-itis isn’t seeping into innovation discussions. Seems more people are sounding a bit more prescribed than experimental in their advice and counsel. I hear more ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘the’ than ‘could’, ‘can’, and ‘a’; more ‘best practices’ than ‘here’s a way’.
There are some great ways to do spur creativity and innovate, but I don’t think there is ‘the’ way. One of the very freeing things about innovation is that it’s a continuous experiment; what works today may or may not work tomorrow (if you have kids, you know this well). It’s good to innovate how you innovate!
I always get concerned when a vocabulary coalesces into jargon* and it seems like that’s happening with innovation. The era of everything being prescribed, of best practices, are coming to an end. While there are some absolutes, I believe success, intangible and tangible, will go to those who can experiment, learn, apply and iterate the fastest and most purposefully.
Do you agree? Am I over-reacting? Let me know your thoughts. And, if you can, just I asked you to watch out for ‘but’ last week, this week, listen for ‘should’, ‘ought’ and ‘the’ - and when you hear it, challenge it, because, Innovation and Status Quo should truly be oxymorons.
*Jargon – Old French jargon “a chattering” (of birds) from mid-14th C “unintelligible talk, gibberish, chattering, jabbering” also from English gargle from which we get gargoyle!
Ever know anyone who will explicitly say he/she doesn't think innovation is important? No! So listen carefully for the magic word - "but". Some of you know how much I love to challenge the status quo so here's my theory: Status Quophiles see the glass as half empty and want to make sure it doesn't become totally empty. Status Quophobes are Innovators - they see the half empty glass as half full, waiting to be filled up!
I've been collecting some phrases I hear from Status Quophiles (SQ) and the rare responses from Innovators (I), Status Quophobes. Do these sound familiar? If you can add any, please do so in the comments!
SQ: Could be a major breakthrough, but your predecessor tried that a while ago, and that’s why you’re here now.
I: Could be a major breakthrough, and we’ll support you in trying it.
SQ: That could work, but we risk not being able to get the coating on a reliable and consistent basis if the world blows up.
I: That would work, and we can diversify our coating suppliers to assure quality and price.
SQ: Wow, cool, but that’s going to be a problem for our customers.
I: Wow, cool, and that’s going to let us help so many more customers and markets than we can now!
SQ: Appreciate your enthusiasm and ideas, but once you’ve been around a bit longer and know how we do things here, you’ll understand the challenges involved.
I: Appreciate your enthusiasm and ideas, and the breath of fresh thinking and perspective is just what we need!
SQ: This makes sense in the long run, but remember, we are measured on quarterly results.
I: This makes sense in the long run, and we can show some benefits even in the short term by applying our learning early on.
SQ: Nice idea, but we have to recognize the sunk costs of our existing fixed assets.
I: Nice idea, and let’s face it, sunk costs are, well, sunk!
SQ: We should pursue this, but let’s make sure it’s 150% vetted and tested and has met all the criteria before we start the project, let alone release it, even for a beta.
I: We should pursue this, and figure out how to prototype and test as we go along to make sure we get it right.
SQ: Interesting, but things are going so well, we’re profitable and growing so we must be on the right track.
I: Interesting, and that will let us start adapting to our customers changing needs while we have the resources and loyalty.
Here's my challenge to you to try for just a few days. Listen for the 'but' in meetings and discussions. Count them. Then, listen for the 'and' and count those? Which do you hear more? And (ha!) what can you do to change that (perhaps starting with yourself!)? Please share what you hear, your count of but & and, and what you can do to change it! Learning is no good if its not shared!
As much as I love change, innovation, #RCUS (Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects per Saul Kaplan) and challenging the Status Quo, I realized how much the comfort and haven of some Status Quo means to me as we got settled at our place in Maine. The familiar faces in our little grocery store and post office, seeing long-time friends, the same lobster boats and buoys in the harbour provide a sense of calm, certainty, stability that, paradoxically, frees me to challenge, change, and innovate.
Yet there is still constant change. In Maine, it's in the water. Several years ago, an old lobsterman had the most elaborate buoys: stripe of red, stripe of white, stripe of red with something different painted in the stripe of white every year such as a buoy, a lobster, and after 9/11, the American Flag. Our kids got one of his buoys every year. One year, there were about half the number of his buoys in the bay. When we saw him at the Co-Op, he informed us his wife had died that winter and he just wasn't up to it. He looked frail. The next year, his boat wasn't in the harbour and there were no buoys. He had died that winter. There were new boats and buoys in the harbour. Death and renewal.
What does this have to do with innovation, business, anything? I think a lot on (at least) two levels:
- While we have to embrace the increasing velocity of change and uncertainty for meaningful, effective innovation, change for change's sake is not the goal. Sometimes the way it is now is really ok. We need to discern the difference and continually re-evaluate. Nothing stays totally the same forever. While the islands, shoals, and hidden rocks are still there, their contours have changed, perhaps ever so slightly, due to the tides, the weather - due to just being there.
- We need to start looking for subtle changes and patterns that provide enormous opportunities. Most non-locals here in Pemaquid probably don't even notice the changes in lobster boats and buoys - but they are significant indicators of shifts (and generations). While boats and buoys are tangible, many times the patterns are in the intangibles, which is harder to perceive (and measure).
So, I leave you with two challenges as you go on your summer vacations, kids baseball and soccer games, walks down the halls at work, visits to plants, boarding planes, even daily commutes:
- Identify the constants in your life, your work, that are working well and that aren't. Do they need to be changed? Do they provide the stability that allows innovation or do they impede it?
- Look for subtle patterns and changes - especially in places you don't normally look and think about what opportunities can arise from these.
For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the word “heretic”. Perhaps it’s the Devil’s Advocate in me (oh! What a pun!). Perhaps its because I love being ‘heretical.’ Perhaps its because being heretical is key to innovating. And this word has been around for millennia!
We usually associate heretic with religion, namely, the Roman Catholic Church: Inquisition, burning people at the stake, etc. However, the origin is secular; the Greek hairein - “to take” that becamehairetikós - “able to choose” from the verb hairesthai “to choose”. At the end of 2nd Century A.D., the Latin version haereticus already meant a ‘heretic’ – someone whose beliefs were false or sacrilegious vis-à-vis the teachings of the Catholic Church. Haereticus became heretique in Middle French andheretik in 13th Century Middle English. Interestingly, by the late 14th Century (think Chaucer), heretik, in addition to the religious connotation, added back its original secular meaning “anyone who does not conform to an established attitude, doctrine, or principle.”
No, this isn’t a treatise on entomology or religious doctrine. This is about innovation. Innovation is about challenging the status quo, accepted doctrines and conventional viewpoints. Fortunately today, innovators do not get burned at the stake, exiled to islands or made into slaves. But, in established institutions, they may be shunned, ignored or even fired.
If you want your business and organization to grow and make a difference (and a profit!), you need to encourage your heretics. You need to give them support, air cover, outlets for exploring ideas, and venues to be heard. No, this is no longer the Age of Aquarius; it’s the Age of the Heretic!