What do Blue Lobsters Have to do With Innovation? Everything!

Blue Lobster at the  South Bristol Coop , 2004

Blue Lobster at the South Bristol Coop, 2004

What’s with blue lobsters? Well, a blue lobster is rare, about 1 in 2 million, and very beautiful.  To me, a blue lobster is a person who views and organizes the world differently, who rejects the status quo, who loves to try stuff, learn, fail and try again, who is interesting because they are interested and who has impact .  When you get enough of them together, you create a blue lobster organization – one that creates positive disruption. 

It is incumbent upon us, whether we’re a blue lobster or not, to find, nurture and develop blue lobsters.  Why? Because the key to innovation isn’t processes, stage gates, weird exercises, or competitions.  The key to innovation has been and always will be People. People who view the world differently. Blue Lobsters.

I view the commitment to innovate, in the companies I’ve worked for and with, as a spectrum of lobsters - from cooked, to live, to rare blue ones.

Red Lobsters think they innovate and believe they want to, but not enough to expand their comfort zone and hire the right people to do it. They think they’re innovative because they make something in green instead of just red, but they stick with their industries, markets, customers, and (usually dying) business models.  In some cases, they are doing pretty well, so there isn’t sense of urgency.

Frankie B. Jr. - Bought 7/13/17 at Hannaford’s Grocery, Damariscotta, ME & freed off our dock on Pemaquid Harbor, ME

Live lobsters have pockets of innovation in the organization and/or people assigned to be the corporate innovators.  Innovation may be a designated job residing in a small part of the organization instead of throughout the culture.  This group may or may not be able to spread and have impact...but usually isn’t enough to become blue.

Blue Lobsters are just plain innovative. You can’t stop them. They ooze it from their pores. Attracting, hiring and developing blue lobsters is in their DNA. They know now to nurture and encourage blue lobsters so they are always growing and impacting the lives of their employees and customers.

I used to think if an organization worked hard enough, tried enough things, read and adapted the latest “best practices”, it could become innovative. Not anymore.  It’s not processes, it’s people. You need blue lobsters to make an organization (more) innovative and change a culture … and maybe even create blue oceans!

The key to innovation has been and always will be People

So, how do you become a blue lobster company? It starts from the top. The CEO either has to be or love Blue Lobsters, to be willing to invest not just money, but diligently invest his/her personal time, effort and social capital, finding and developing Blue Lobsters as well as assuring the culture will accept them. I’ve never seen innovation take hold, consistently, if it’s not embraced, nurtured, desired from the top.

This means getting some blue lobsters into the C-Suite, mentoring and nurturing them AND developing live lobsters so the core keeps running excellently and, moreover, may turn live lobsters blue!  One of my clients is doing this with their “Blue Lobster Leadership” program (seriously, that’s the name!).

Do you want to find some blue lobsters? Are you one? If you’re interested, ask me. I have some ideas and I know some places they tend to hang out.

And please, remember, it is incumbent upon us to find, nurture and develop blue lobsters, because perhaps that way, they’ll be less rare, and we can have more impact on our world.

Reflections ~ One Month Post-BIF

Saul Kaplan  Starting Day 2 of  BIF  - Photo by  Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

Saul Kaplan Starting Day 2 of BIF - Photo by Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

Every year, the crew at BIF lets me bring a bunch of my Brown University students to BIF. My students are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, years and concentrations - #STEAM. This year, I asked the kids to share their reflections. Profound, personal, hopeful, cautious. Here are their thoughts.

Everyone is special and has something to offer the world and to teach each of us

Too often, too many people go unnoticed and unappreciated by society and by even by themselves. Miraculously, people find and activate their potential, even when they didn’t think they had any. That potential, when realized, impacts others - helping them see their potential and getting and giving second, third plus chances. Despite what we hear from the media, our world is filled with good people. Everyone has something to teach us … and everyone is magic.

LISTEN! Stories matter!

LISTEN! It’s important to let stories soak into us and to find ways they can inform & improve our own lives and experiences. Stories are how we learn from the very beginning. They are examples, not instructional guidelines (which are 1 size fits all). Stories aren’t a “do this, do that, then this happens.” They require us, the listener, to do the work of weighing that story against our own values and decide how and what parts to apply to our own lives. Stories can make magic happen.

Use the Network for Good.

The network, along with many of our privileged lives, has the potential for doing good. Our networks and advantages can and should be used to open opportunities for others. There are so many great people in the world. You have to be open to finding them, willing to meet them and to expand your network with and for them. The network spreads magic.

It seemed that, in particular, this year, BIF invigorated my students to make a difference (which is saying a lot since these kids are wired to have a positive impact by default!). They left with Darden Smith’s words - Know where you are starting, what you stand for, who you’re not, and be willing to wander and wonder! Then, think big and run with it!

Trinity Rep Dome. Photo by  Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

Trinity Rep Dome. Photo by Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

A very special thanks to BIF for letting my 20+ students attend and to my students for sharing their thoughts (Samanee, Salko, David, Eric, Kyra, Stefan, Manny and others).

The Hope & Serendipity of #RCUS

The highlight of the year - BIF.  It's the embodiment of my definition of innovation ~ the Network + Serendipity - through Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (#RCUS). It's the place to renew your mind and soul - to see what can and is being done to positively change our world by people of all ages, ethnicities, experiences, industries, sectors, geographies.  This will be my 6th BIF and every year I think it can't get any better... and every year it does.  Why? Because the human desire, passion and spirit to do good is everlasting.  Despite the misery and pain we see in the world around us, there is always hope - hope being realized by action.  That's why I can't miss a BIF - it renews your hope in mankind.