Innovation vs. Change

We’ve heard the phrase before that “change is constant.” It’s true that from one moment to the next change has occurred. Solutions for specific situations in the past cannot effectively be replicated in the now or in the future. It’s like one person put it. History (in fact) does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Change is the natural process that adjusts any system’s flow. Machine parts wear down. Bolts shake loose. One generation passes to another. Nature is waiting to take back the earth. Change is nature’s way of meeting her objectives, but what about yours? It isn’t very often that nature’s goals and an organization’s goals are the same (although they can be complimentary).

For people to make effective and meaningful system adjustments change isn’t enough. True adjustments require innovation.

Innovation is different than change. Innovation is to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.” By definition innovation requires new methods, ideas, or products.

Innovation is sometimes the result of one brilliant individual. Nicola Tesla’s AC generator comes to mind. Thomas Edison’s lightbulb might be on the list as well, but Edison wasn’t alone. He had a team of engineers and innovators working in his shop when the code for the successful lightbulb was finally cracked.

The inventors of Tesla’s and Edison’s day had significantly more opportunity to invent miracles than those today. Today we are surrounded by a million miracles born out of others’ innovation.

Innovation isn’t normally just one brilliant person. There’s generally a pattern to the process. It starts with an environment of trust and continuous learning. In those environments collaboration can not only occur but thrive! You know collaboration when you see it. It starts as a conversation that discusses a WHY. While most of what follows my be prototyping the what to solve a need the group’s focus on why isn’t lost as the conversation evolves.

In collaborative settings no one walks away wishing they’d spent their time elsewhere. If you’re having a meeting where folks wish they could be someone else, or they regret having spent the time in that environment, then you’re not collaborating and you’re not likely to innovate–unless of course you’ve got one brilliant mind who can do it on his own.

In our home and professional environments seeking innovations (whether small or large) is possible and knowing that innovation is born out of collaborative settings gives us a better incentive to build and maintain trust and invest the time to talk about the why.

Time to Explore

I have an app on my wrist that used to tell me when to breathe.

I muted notifications. I already know how to breathe.

What the app describes as breathe though isn’t necessarily a bad idea, it’s just that the app uses a term I don’t appreciate. Taking the time to let air flow in and out of my body isn’t something I need to budget time for. It just happens.

I think it’s more important to budget time to explore.

When was the last time you noticed something normal and asked questions about it?

I did this once at the dentist (an experience I don’t necessarily enjoy) and found myself being fascinated by the multitude of specially designed tools used to create the experience that would improve my oral health. Among the things I mentally explored were the specific qualities of steel (iron & carbon mixed) in order to produce the thin metal tools used. The chair was hooked up to electrical and vacuum systems, contained foam designed during the space race of the 1960s, and X-rays developed when space was still the subject of science fiction.

A simple experience I took for granted contained a history of artifacts that combine to deliver value via oral health.

Taking the time to explore isn’t just fun. The insights can help you appreciate the world around you.

Give it a go on something that’s routine today. You don’t have to go to the dentist to see the good in the world around you.

For the record, I still don’t like going to the dentist, but I know I’ll at least find something new there that I can appreciate.

The Two Great Denominators

Underlying everything we do is underlined by two great denominators, time and agency.

Time is interesting. Thanks to the Babylonians and other great mathematicians we time-box our time into 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute. While I say we’ve time-boxed time, in reality it cares very little about the boxes we’ve assigned to it. It runs its own course.

Agency is our second great denominator. It’s the recognition that choice is required for action. Generally I explain this using a military example. No drill sergeant ever made a private do push ups. The drill sergeant may have instructed, ordered, yelled, and profaned, but at no point did he animate the muscles of the person doing pushups. That person’s muscles were animated by themselves.

With agency and time as our two great denominators, the question then becomes, what do we do with them? What direction will you take your time and what will you do with your agency?