I recent­ly post­ed 10 ques­tions that every organ­i­sa­tion and every man­ag­er needs to ask in order to think entre­pre­neuri­al­ly [link]. To be sure, some prob­a­bly saw my list and hopped right on it, print­ing it out and explor­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties right away. But it dawned on me that there might be oth­ers for whom my self-exam­i­na­tion list was too much to han­dle. They couldn’t find the phys­i­cal ener­gy, intel­lec­tu­al strength or team sup­port to do any­thing more than already-assigned work. That real­i­sa­tion led me to explore oth­ers who might be delv­ing into vari­a­tions of “inno­va­tion des­o­la­tion” — a state of com­plete empti­ness when it comes to think­ing like an entre­pre­neur. Let me point you to three sources I espe­cial­ly liked.

Future, Past, PresentIno­va­tion Fatigue Alf Rehn [link] asks man­agers to explore whether they are cre­at­ing organ­i­sa­tion­al tired­ness because they are try­ing to pro­mote inno­va­tion the wrong way.

Well, there is a prob­lem in inno­va­tion-land, and the name of this prob­lem is inno­va­tion fatigue.… as I use the term, [this] is what hap­pens when a group of peo­ple — e.g. a team in an orga­ni­za­tion — is sub­ject­ed to vague inno­va­tion talk and bad­ly expli­cat­ed inno­va­tion projects to the point where the very ref­er­ence to “inno­va­tion” trig­gers feel­ings of bore­dom and mean­ing­less­ness. It can emerge after a com­pa­ny runs a series of inno­va­tion projects that fail to gen­er­ate any­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly inno­v­a­tive, or from man­agers repeat­ing point­less clichés like “think out­side the box” or “let’s inno­vate our way out of this”. Regard­less of how it emerges, it builds on man­agers and lead­ers prop­a­gat­ing a vague and far too gen­er­al per­spec­tive on inno­va­tion and there­by emp­ty­ing it of mean­ing.

Inno­va­tion Exhaus­tion Jef­frey Phillips [link] points out that, because inno­va­tion is such a dis­rup­tion from the sta­tus quo, many can become worn down when inno­va­tion is tried too often.

Inno­va­tion exhaus­tion is the cul­mi­na­tion of the effort involved in intro­duc­ing new tools, stretch­ing per­spec­tives and the breadth of think­ing, pulling peo­ple from their reg­u­lar jobs to per­form inno­va­tion activ­i­ties that they aren’t con­vinced man­age­ment will sup­port, and ask­ing them to work in ambigu­ous, uncer­tain envi­ron­ments with lit­tle prepa­ra­tion or train­ing. Con­duct­ing inno­va­tion as a peri­od­ic, poor­ly defined and poor­ly pre­pared activ­i­ty is lit­er­al­ly exhaust­ing to an orga­ni­za­tion. While the results may be very pos­i­tive, it is often very dif­fi­cult to get peo­ple to agree to do anoth­er inno­va­tion activ­i­ty soon after the ini­tial one is com­plete. But that’s exact­ly what they should do.

Inno­va­tion Myopia Tina Seel­ig [link] In a reprint­ed excerpt (on Fast Company’s Co.Design) from her book, Inge­nius, Seel­ig points out that the brick wall that many peo­ple feel they have hit when try­ing to be inno­v­a­tive may be due to the fact that they have not been ask­ing the right ques­tions. Prob­lems, she asserts, can become oppor­tu­ni­ties if they are “reframed”.

Refram­ing prob­lems takes effort, atten­tion, and prac­tice, and allows you to see the world around you in a brand-new light. You can prac­tice refram­ing by phys­i­cal­ly or men­tal­ly chang­ing your point of view, by see­ing the world from oth­ers’ per­spec­tives, and by ask­ing ques­tions that begin with “why.” Togeth­er, these approach­es enhance your abil­i­ty to gen­er­ate imag­i­na­tive respons­es to the prob­lems that come your way.

Insert­ed into the Seel­ig post is a short, nine-minute video which is indeed a clas­sic. Pow­ers of Ten [link] is a 1977 video cre­at­ed by Ray and Charles Eames [link] which is mes­meris­ing. Here’s the descrip­tion right from YouTube: “Pow­ers of Ten takes us on an adven­ture in mag­ni­tudes. Start­ing at a pic­nic by the lake­side in Chica­go, this famous film trans­ports us to the out­er edges of the uni­verse. Every ten sec­onds we view the start­ing point from ten times far­ther out until our own galaxy is vis­i­ble only a s a speck of light among many oth­ers. Return­ing to Earth with breath­tak­ing speed, we move inward- into the hand of the sleep­ing pic­nick­er- with ten times more mag­ni­fi­ca­tion every ten sec­onds. Our jour­ney ends inside a pro­ton of a car­bon atom with­in a DNA mol­e­cule in a white blood cell.”

I men­tion that video here because it is a great refresh­er for any­one in the depths of inno­va­tion des­o­la­tion. Every busi­ness and every organ­i­sa­tion looks dif­fer­ent when exam­ined with either a macro or a micro view. Put anoth­er way, a senior man­ag­er could learn a lot by spend­ing a day work­ing on a load­ing dock or pro­cess­ing an order in cus­tomer ser­vice. Sim­i­lar­ly, low­er-lev­el employ­ees could learn much by sit­ting in on a senior-lev­el mar­ket­ing meet­ing. And all employ­ees at all lev­els could learn a great deal if they stepped away from the busi­ness entire­ly and attend­ed a lec­ture on a top­ic total­ly unre­lat­ed to their busi­ness, mean­dered slow­ly through a muse­um or enrolled in a class on a sub­ject they have nev­er stud­ied.

The need to find your next is a real and unflinch­ing chal­lenge. The 10 ques­tions I have already put for­ward [link] are designed to help you and your team zoom in and out — like the Pow­ers of Ten video — and, by that act, go places you have not been before.

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