Webster defines it: "The introduction of something new . . . a new idea, method, or device." When we innovate, we change, we flex. We approach the standard operating procedure, not like a soft-footed Native American scout sneaking up on a deer by the brook, but rather like Wild Bill Hickok in a saloon with both guns blazing.
It takes guts to innovate, because it requires creative thinking. Thinking is hard enough, but creative thinking—ah, that's work! To get the juices squirting, you have to be dissatisfied with the status quo.
Take photography, for example. For years, the same old procedure . . . which required long periods of delay. Nobody even thought about hurrying up the process. Not until a guy named Edwin Land formed a company with a funny name—Polaroid.
Sometimes innovation is forced on us. Take December 7, 1941. We got caught with our military pants down. Before American planes could get airborne, or even out of the hangar, most of them were destroyed. We were forced to ask the obvious: "How can we get the planes out of the hangars fast?"
A fellow by the name of Mitchell solved the problem in a most innovative way. He simply turned the question upside down and asked the unobvious: "How can we get the hangar away from the planes—fast?" The result (after the inevitable laughter and rejection) was a two-piece hangar. Each section was mounted on wheels with sufficient power to separate the two at thirty-five miles an hour . . . which enabled the fighter planes to take off in several different directions.Fast.
Now, you're thinking: Land and Mitchell are geniuses. And you are ready to toss in Newton and Bell and Edison and Ford and the Wright brothers. And you're also telling yourself that there aren't many of those gifted people spread around. Granted, those men might very well qualify as geniuses . . . but if you ask them, they'll tell you another story. J. C. Penney once observed, "Geniuses themselves don't talk about the gift of genius; they just talk about hard work and long hours." It's the old one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration answer.
Let's have four "greats" take the stand and testify. These are their actual words:
Michelangelo: "If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery; it wouldn't seem so wonderful after all."
Thomas Carlyle: "Genius is the capacity for taking infinite pains."
Ignancy Jan Paderewski: "A genius? Perhaps, but before I was a genius I was a drudge."
Alexander Hamilton: "All the genius I may have is merely the fruit of labor and thought."
Are innovative people really that rare? Not if you listen to Sheldon David, TRW's former vice president:
The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.
You know what that says to me? It says there are a whole lot more innovative people (who currently see themselves only as "drudges") than any of us can imagine. In fact, you may very well be one of them!
We'll look into that tomorrow. You might be surprised at what you discover.