Imagine if I went to my economics teacher in 1987 and explained any one of these seemingly crazy ideas to them:
- I’m going to ask a ton of brilliant authors and historians to donate their time, write factual articles, check each other’s work, and not pay them a penny. Afterwards, I’ll offer their work for free.
- I’m going to have a horde of programmers develop all sorts of programs to make people’s lives easier. Their work will be gratis, and the users don’t have to pay.
- I’m going to move to Memphis, Tennessee, buy 14 airplanes, and compete with the postal service and charge less to deliver faster.
The teacher would ask me when I hit my head and how hard.
If you haven’t already put it together, the aforementioned ideas lead to Wikipedia, Google, and FedEx. They say hindsight is 20/20, so it’s easy to look back and marvel at the successes of innovative pioneers, but do you think these ideas were so critically acclaimed when pitched at their humble beginnings?
One thing all of these companies have in common is, like most innovative companies, they are pioneered by a determined and stubborn person. I don’t mean stubborn in the same negative connotation that is commonly associated with it. In some cases, being stubborn can be a great trait to have if you’re in it for the long run. It will prevent you from constant pivoting and keep your sights on the end goal. They were stubborn in the fact that they trudged through the opinions of naysayers and non-helpers and pushed toward their goals.
While I can’t name any names, I can say with certainty somebody who heard these ideas before they came to fruition probably curled over with laughter. It isn’t uncommon that innovative ideas are coined as “dumb”. I say it often, futurists are usually right – at the wrong time.
One reason why innovation is rare, is in part to our own human nature. We don’t like to be made fun of. We are uncomfortable when we feel socially awkward. Nobody wants to be painted as the day-dreamer, so we resort back our shells and keep the innovative ideas to ourselves.
What if we could create a safe place for exploring innovative ideas?
It’s the “crazy” ideas that change everything. No innovation or disruption has resulted by expanding on the conventional. The scariest thing about this is that so many great innovative ideas that could change the world are being held inside the consciousness of one person. People are, by default, scared to share and pursue innovative ideas.
This doesn’t just go for startups and garage-born businesses. Inside the staff of almost every mid to large size business there are employees thinking about the future of the business. What makes it difficult for the companies to capitalize on this knowledge is the employees are deterred by fear to share their ideas. If the culture is not one that fosters and treasures new ideas and innovative thoughts, employees will not share because of the risk of ridicule.
Employees who don’t feel comfortable sharing innovative thoughts, or worse yet, have shared innovative thoughts but aren’t being heard will do one of two things. They are going to search for a culture that accepts their innovative spirit, or they are going to turn into your competition. Trust me, you don’t want either one.
We aren’t in 1987 anymore where megalithic slow-to-change conglomerates rule the market and can’t be moved. The tools and mentality for change is readily available for the bold and innovative, and small start-ups are disrupting entire industries.
Harness that power.
Create a culture of innovation where your staff feels comfortable thinking outside of the box, and presenting innovative ideas that, with support, will turn you into the market leader 5-10 years out.
Let’s start the conversation of how to create a safe place for employee innovation.