If you’re like most people, you’ve faced disappointment. Maybe the love of your life didn’t return your affection, you didn’t get into your dream college, or you were passed over for promotion. It hurts. And sometimes, that hurt lingers for a long time.
Until one day, something happens, and you realize your disappointment was a gift. You meet the true love of your life while attending college at your fallback school, and years later, when you get passed over for promotion, the two of you quit your jobs, pursue your dreams, and live happily ever after. Or something like that.
We all experience disappointment. We also all get to choose whether we stay there, lamenting the loss of what coulda shoulda woulda been, or we can persevere, putting one foot in front of the other and playing The Rolling Stones on repeat:
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you might just find
You get what you need”
That’s also innovation.
As innovators, especially leaders of innovators, we rarely get what we want. But we always get what we need (whether we like it or not)
We want to know.
We need to be comfortable not knowing.
Most of us want to know the answer because if we know the answer, there is no risk. There is no chance of being wrong, embarrassed, judged, or punished. But if there is no risk, there is no growth, expansion, or discovery.
Innovation is something new that creates value. If you know everything, you can’t innovate.
As innovators, we need to be comfortable not knowing. When we admit to ourselves that we don’t know something, we open our minds to new information, new perspectives, and new opportunities. When we say we don’t know, we give others permission to be curious, learn, and create.
We want the creative genius and billion-dollar idea.
We need the team and the steady stream of big ideas.
We want to believe that one person blessed with sufficient time, money, and genius can change the world. Some people like to believe they are that person, and most of us think we can hire that person, and when we do find that person and give them the resources they need, they will give us the billion-dollar idea that transforms our company, disrupts the industry, and change the world.
Innovation isn’t magic. Innovation is team work.
We need other people to help us see what we can’t and do what we struggle to do. The idea-person needs the optimizer to bring her idea to life, and the optimizer needs the idea-person so he has a starting point. We need lots of ideas because most won’t work, but we don’t know which ones those are, so we prototype, experiment, assess, and refine our way to the ones that will succeed.
We want to be special.
We need to be equal.
We want to work on the latest and most cutting-edge technology and discuss it using terms that no one outside of Innovation understands. We want our work to be on stage, oohed and aahed over on analyst calls, and talked about with envy and reverence in every meeting. We want to be the cool kids, strutting around our super hip offices in our hoodies and flip-flops or calling into the meeting from Burning Man.
Innovation isn’t about you. It’s about serving others.
As innovators, we create value by solving problems. But we can’t do it alone. We need experienced operators who can quickly spot design flaws and propose modifications. We need accountants and attorneys who instantly see risks and help you navigate around them. We need people to help us bring our ideas to life, but that won’t happen if we act like we’re different or better. Just as we work in service to our customers, we must also work in service to our colleagues by working with them, listening, compromising, and offering help.
What about you?
What do you want?
What are you learning you need?