This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Do you ever wonder what it really takes to come up with great inventions? I do. So much of our world has changed because of great ideas. The way we listen to music, the way we shop and the way we search for information.
But how did that happen?
One look at some of the amazing technology we heard about at the World Mobile Congress is enough to confirm what I’ve always believed. Great inventions take shape when someone decides to make them happen. It really is as simple as that.
Polaroid co-founder Edwin Land said: “The test of an invention is the power of the inventor to push it through in the face of staunch – not opposition, but indifference – in society.” And that’s exactly right.
People have a tendency to fear risk, to fear challenging the way things have always been done. Many of us have heard of the term “assumed constraints.” People often assume that barriers exist, that we can’t go somewhere because we never have been, or that we have limited resources, that the rules won’t allow this, or that’s never been done before. We assume that we are bound by constraints that may or may not exist. (“Hey, we challenged that idea three years ago, why challenge it again?”)
For certain industries, such as banking, many people assume that existing rules and regulations thwart change and innovation. It is a tough market to change and rightfully so – safety and security are of paramount importance. But I really think we use rules and regulations as excuses not to innovate. Business people with great ideas are quickly and easily thwarted when they are told that their innovations can’t work. They give up and stop pursuing innovations when they bump against the objections from a lawyer or compliance person. In general, it seems to be in our nature to simply adhere to a set of rules and avoid risk altogether. But those are areas we must challenge, too, in order for real innovation to happen in any industry.
Real innovation takes a free and liberated mindset to think of what’s possible without known or assumed constraints. We need to envision what is possible and find ways to make it real.
I recently visited Israel, an innovation hotbed that falls just behind Silicon Valley in a global ranking of startups, according to the book Start-up Nation. Israel has a population of only eight million people. This visit was an eye-opening experience where I discovered a deep-seated culture of innovation and a high sense of urgency. The government plays a big role in stimulating innovation, and collaboration between business, investors, government and academia was impressive, and refreshing.
Real innovators think differently. There’s vibrancy in the way they create, a sense of urgency to drive their inventions forward without fear and a willingness to blast through obstacles. They have the passion, energy and confidence to see ideas through, and an insatiable curiosity that never leaves them feeling comfortable.
Harvard management professor and entrepreneur John Kotter captured what I observed when he wrote: “A higher rate of urgency does not imply panic, anxiety, or fear. It means a state in which complacency is virtually absent.”
That’s what it takes to make real change happen – not just incremental changes, but big, high-impact innovations that enrich our lives.
Technology has simplified the way we live. It has enhanced how we interact with business, and each other. Our world is far more connected than it ever was. And while some will argue that technology is leaving us disconnected from each other, I disagree. It is still up to the individual to manage technology and take control of what’s important in his or her life.
We simply cannot deny the absolutely wonderful benefits of technological innovation. What we should do is ensure more of our future leaders grasp the true value of innovation and instill a sense of urgency in their leadership. The type of urgency by which former chief executive Andy Grove transformed Intel: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”