We Are All Innovators Now

Harvard Business Review

January 27, 2009

by Marshall Goldsmith

I have never thought of myself as innovative. I figure the folks in marketing and R&D can take care of our innovation needs while I spend my work life just doing my job. But recently I read that we all have the capacity to be innovative, even conservative people like me. Should I focus on being an innovator?

MG: This is a great question, which I will turn over to Stephen C. Lundin Ph.D. You may know Steve from his FISH! books. Well, there is a new animal in town. Steve has written a new book titled CATS: The Nine Lives of Innovation. Much of what has been written about innovation is strategic and organizational in nature. Steve writes about innovation at the personal level and in doing so, he addresses your question head on.

SL: It is common for people to form an opinion about their level of creativity and their ability to innovate that is inaccurate. We all know someone who bounces off the wall with ideas and we feel a bit more constrained. Couple that with the extroverted nature of exercises designed to stimulate new ideas, and it is easy to get the impression that an introverted, comfort-seeking, and conservative person doesn’t have a contribution to make.

The truth is far different. We all have the capacity to innovate. It comes free with our membership in the human race. We bring an advantage no one else has with our uniqueness. We have a capacity to innovate, and we need to develop that capacity into a capability so we can contribute to the innovation of our business and of our life.

The Nine Lives of Innovation constitutes the curriculum for building innovation capability. Each of the “nine lives” enhances the capability to innovate. The lives include building spaciousness and preparing for innovation.

What I call “understanding normal” — that is, knowing why we are the way we are — is a key first step. But going beyond that to harness the power of provocation in innovation is where the fun really starts. We can provoke ourselves to be more innovative (and less “normal”) through scenarios, objects, observations and discussion with others. We can escape our own norms just by learning to better use our imagination. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s the key to innovation.

Finally, putting failure in its proper place of contribution to innovation is critical. Fail early and fail often!

MG: Thank you, Steve. Readers – your thoughts and ideas on this subject are appreciated. Please send in comments with your answers to this intriguing question. Steve can be reached at SLRunner@aol.com.