In 2007, at the D5 Conference, Steve Jobs sat with Bill Gates and talked about the importance of passion when it comes to innovation. While I agree with Steve, I think he was missing a very important piece that is an absolute necessity for igniting passion, and I didn’t quite understand what that missing piece was until last year.
My team and I talk a lot about Simon Sinek’s idea of “Why”. In his book, Start with Why, he pushes readers to discover their purpose, cause, or belief that inspires them to do what they do.
Mr. Sinek then goes on to say something, which at its core, is so fundamentally important when it comes to innovation that it’s worth sharing.
“Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.”
The reason this is relevant in the world of innovation is because teams that don’t understand and internalize the “why” behind their need to innovate will merely be adding yet another task into their work week without understanding the full impact the innovation will have on them, their customer and the company.
A clear “why” unlocks passion in a team. And passion is the catalyst for innovation.
In order for innovation to exist, we need passion – which is a combination of curiosity, imagination, and persistence – to inspire people to look beyond the status quo and look at the world through a different lens to find solutions to big problems. It leads to new products, services, and systems that bring new life to organizations.
Connecting passion, innovation, and “why”
To better understand the connection between passion, innovation, and a clear “why”, we need to look to companies that are putting all three together – one of those companies is a Canadian supplement company that I was recently introduced to. When I learned about this company I found that their entire team was driven every day by a vision to help one million or more people live healthier, more active lives.
I was lucky enough to share a conversation with the CEO of this organization as he helped me gain a deeper understanding of their why. He shared stories about a gentleman who got his mobility back so he could play with his kids after years of wrestling destroyed the cartilage in his knees; a woman who was in a violent car accident and suffered from various pains every day until she took their product; and an arthritic dog that could run at the dog park again after taking the dog formula.
Stories like these are so critical to gaining clarity on why your company exists. By having these clear stories, it drives that “why”, which ignites passion in a team which then fuels the desire to innovate to continue helping customers in any way they can. Now that’s a powerful combination! The question remains, though: How exactly does an organization go about inspiring and driving a deeper purpose for an innovation team as they begin their journey?
Inspiring employees starts from the top down All innovation projects need to begin with the executive team whose responsibility is to provide an innovation team freedom within a framework by defining what they need ideas for, what ideas they aren’t interested in, constraints, and areas for further exploration. In addition to those key areas, one of the most important parts of the executive team’s job is to tell the story of why it is very important that the team focus energy on this project.
An executive team needs to define a narrative so clearly that if employees get no further direction, they will be motivated to work on the mission set forth by the executive team and will know exactly what leadership’s strategic and tactical intent is about.
This is important because the reality is that innovation is hard. There will be many instances where confusion, challenges, and roadblocks threaten the idea. A team without a well-defined narrative will end up feeling dejected and want to give up because there is no deeper purpose that drives them through the hard times.
The teams that do have a well-defined narrative will face the same challenges with greater optimism, vigour and resilience because they will have a purpose, cause or belief that inspires them to drive forward.
Innovation is one of the most powerful societal and economic engines we have – and at its core needs a clear “why” to give it life. It’s the “why” that drives passion which unlocks successful innovation projects.
God speed, Innovation Nation.
Ryan Caligiuri is an Associate and innovation engineering practitioner with inVision Edge, an innovation and growth company. InVision Edge is also the leader of the Canadian Innovation Engineering Network.
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