Tides...

It is that time of year when I am called to my duty as Pemaquid Harbor Tide Watcher. I take on this auspicious duty reverently and devotedly until mid-August.

Because I must be attentive to tidal variations, especially during full and new moons, I will not be blogging as frequently during this period.  

In the interim, feel free to read through the archives... including Red, Right, Returning.

Innovation in the Hopper

Edward Hopper is one of my favorite artists, so I was excited to see all his Maine works on exhibit at the Bowdoin Museum of Art.  A lot of his time in Maine was on Monhegan Island, a noted artists’ colony for over 150 years, close to us in Pemaquid. Hopper’s experimentation and evolution of style and technique remind me a lot of how we innovate.  I’ll explain in a minute.Monhegan Rocks and Seals (1916-19)

Hopper’s paintings became more realistic and less impressionistic over time.  His early paintings (1916-19’s) were very impressionist with deep texture and detail in the brushstrokes, such as Monhegan Rocks and Seals (1916-19).

And yet, Hopper goes back and forth between realism as in Captain Upton’s House Captain Upton's House (1927)(1927) and a bit of impressionism in my favorite of all his works, Pemaquid Light (1929), as he experiments and integrates the various styles and techniques (you can see the influence of Manet and Degas).  After this several year experimentation with impressionism, Hopper returns to his comfort zone: darker colors and more realistic representation – as in his very famous painting of a bar in Greenwich Village, Nighthawks (1942).    I get lost inPemaquid Light (1929) these paintings – I hear the men at the Pemaquid Light discussing their latest catch, where the stripers are running; I eavesdrop on the couple’s conversation at the bar.

As we innovate over time, our style and technique also evolve and blend.  The ways we interact, write, design and communicate shift as we have more experiences and relationships.   The shift is rarely linear – a few steps forward, a few backward, a few sideways, a few perpendicular.   Why? Because we are experimenting, seeing what works and what doesn’t work, blending aspects of both into new forms and Nighthawks (1942)techniques.  Think back to how you have approached business and life as you’ve matured.  Our perceptions of the world, of others, of global events have all changed and hence, impacted our view of needs, problems and solutions.

So, how has your perspective changed over time? What have you learned through the varied experiences and relationships of your life that you can apply to when, how, where, why you innovate? How can you turn those learnings into solutions that impact lives as much as paintings impact souls?

Paradox of Innovation and Status Quo

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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?
  2. Look for subtle patterns and changes - especially in places you don't normally look and think about what opportunities can arise from these.

Please feel free to share your learnings with your fellow readers either through comments here or on twitter at @dscofield or email me