The Goal: Making Innovation Disappear

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Some years back I was involved in an inter-religious dialogue with a Muslim group. During the course of many conversations, one thing became clear. My Muslim friends didn’t think of themselves as belonging to a religion, per se. They simply were living a way of life.

They weren’t, and aren’t, alone.

In fact, there are cultures that don’t have a word for ‘religion’ in their vocabulary. If a word is used it is a variation on the imported word, “religion.”

The reason for this is as mentioned earlier. People view living in a “religious” manner as a holistic experience. There is no place that an individual’s (and community’s!) world view is not influenced by the relationship between God and Humans. It simply “is”, and if it simply is, it doesn’t need to be labelled.

This phenomenon is present in other places in our lives as well. Ask someone to describe how she gets from point a to point b, how he cooks a souffle, and I would be extremely surprised to hear those descriptions contain the phrase, “and then I breathe in and out,” multiple times, if even once.

It just happens and is part of the process.

That’s how an innovation competency should be. Eventually you shouldn’t need to talk about it. Everything you do, from working in an R&D lab to Finance, to Operations, to taking time to recharge your batteries should be geared towards optimizing your innovation output. (Remember the Innovation Audit)

Yes, some of this is about consistent procedures (‘ritual’ from a religious perspective), but moreso it’s about commitment; it’s about worldview which is tied into identity and brand.

Who are we? What’s our goal? What are we supposed to do and how do we do it? Who am I?

These are the questions that, at first glance seem to have a ‘religious’ nature to them. But, it’s not about religion as much as it’s about human authenticity. It’s about letting people be who they are, contributing from their strengths to help make the whole be more than the sum of its parts. If people can’t be their deepest selves, and if the innovative organization does not contribute to the making of the whole person, then the person suffers and the innovative output of the organization will suffer.

So, next time you find yourself talking about how what you’re doing is innovative, do a little reflection and ask if innovation is a core competency or a way of life. Ask yourself if you’re doing something because you have to do it, or because you’re committed to it and the company’s mission makes sense, and what you do makes sense, when you do it.

Does this mean that there’s no questioning?

No, in fact there should be, because, just as I learned in the inter-religious dialogue, growth and building relationships is more about sharing questions than sharing answers.

Not to mention, the organization that sells answers will eventually go out of business because humans don’t buy answers – fundamentally they buy a question:

“What will my life become with this product/service/etc.?”

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