Thomas Kuczmarski put it well when he described innovation as “a mindset, a pervasive attitude or way of thinking…beyond the present to the future…the penchant for seeing beyond what is and focusing on what might be.”
In this present world of economic chaos and social turmoil, ‘what might be’ seems like a hard place to go. It’s too far away. For some it might not exist anymore. Surviving the ‘now’ seems to be the common order for the day; or more accurately, downsizing now seems to be the status quo – indeed, ‘flat’ is the new ‘up’.
What a shame. For in this place we can potentially ignore the power and real opportunity of this present moment — where we can sow and commit our all to our most precious and essential driver of innovation; the human heart, soul, mind and strength. Tomorrow’s ideas reside in the DNA of every future innovator. This requires the unlocking, liberating and the chance to dream today — now, right at this very moment. Being given this chance translates in real terms into designer managers, creative directors et al lying down their textbooks, theories, agendas, meetings, egos and becoming true innovation leaders; rolling up their sleeves, leading by example by ‘doing it’ not just ‘reading about it’, ‘speaking about’ and ‘talking about it’; but creating real, gritty, textural environments where tomorrow’s innovators can experience a safe but dynamic place to start to learn, experiment and grow.
This means that today’s innovation managers must stand along side the next generation; enabling them on a daily basis to explore, embrace and own ambition, curiosity, courage and the understand power to act, transact, relate and connect through the power of innovation. After all innovation is ultimately a bridging mechanism that allows humans to relate and it’s this next generation of designers who represent the future of that connection through innovation — whether it be tangible, virtual, off line, on line, deliberate, systematic, process, 3 D, 4D or something else.
For managers, this downtime represents the time to take time; to invest in people and resist the temptation to lay them off; to see beyond the short term; to be interruptable; to listen; to ensure the next generation of innovators are given time and place to inquire, explore, research, breath in the world, get it wrong, get it right, ideate, translate, iterate, collaborate, give up, start again…
So in short, the future of innovation requires selflessness on the part of today’s innovators. True innovation is to see a vision bigger than one’s self; to embrace ‘cathedral building vision’ not ‘rock hauling mentality’. Who knows if we will see true, radical innovation in this generation, given these times? Depends on one’s perspective. Mine is inextricably linked to the notion that I will have only truly innovated if I was able to transfer something on to someone today that translated into something truly greater, bigger and meaningful into the world our children will possess tomorrow.