13 Mar Generation gap working in favor of innovation
There is nothing new about the chasm between generations. It was there as I was growing up in tie-dyed blue jeans with shoulder length locks (yes, no kidding, me!)
It was there as my parents left the old country to come to the promised land of America, and it’s there today as my daughter lobbies for an iPhone. So maybe I’m just taking my place in a long line of older generations when I step up to the microphone to express my amazement at how wide the gap seems to be from where I stand.
Yesterday I had the chance to talk about innovation to a group of undergrad students at Babson. It’s not a new venue for me. I’ve guest lectured at a number of schools and was an adjunct at Boston College for several years. But it’s been a little while since the last time I did that. Boy was I in for a surprise!
Over the past few years, I’ve been immersed in the innovation discussion with “corporates.” I’ve interviewed dozens of CEOs and chief innovation officers and many more execs who are tasked with increasing their organization’s ability to innovate. I have a standard set of questions, observations, and insights that I share with them. I expect a certain set of answers, obstacles, and objectives. Having been in that mode so intensely for so long, it’s second nature to me. I needed a wake up call.
The 23 students I spoke with challenged every stereotype I had developed of the corporate mindset. Their understanding, appreciation of, and fluency in the nuance of innovation so closely mirrored what I often set out as the ideal of innovation that I felt at times as though I had suddenly walked through a time warp and had ended up in a future I can only dream about.
As I asked them questions that normally get blank stares from professional audiences, how innovation differs from invention, what sorts of mechanism would create a culture of innovation, how new ideas are nurtured, they fired back precise, articulate answers. It was like pitching underhand to Major League hitters. I watched each answer float effortlessly out of the park.
I left with a euphoria that there must be something being done right to get this next generation to understand the meaning behind so many of the mantras that we recite but do not follow through on. Innovation was instinctive to them. Most people I talk to still need a checklist.
At the same time I wonder how well their bright ideas and intuition will be greeted by the more entrenched minds that already inhabit the corporations and institutions they will join. My advice to them was simple, “Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done that way, just because it never has!” But I know it will be an uphill battle for them. In a workforce where four generations often work shoulder to shoulder, the struggle to bring new ideas to the table crosses many chasms into which many ideas perish.
Maybe it’s just that I’m getting too old and cynical. Perhaps this new generation will blow through all of these obstacles and someday stand were I do today and be just as amazed at how endless this cycle of discovery, progress, and innovation really is.
I sure hope so.
File this one under “A” for “accidentally, awe, and amaze”
One of the benefits of what I do (at least in my own self deluded view) is that I spend so much time just stumbling upon random bits and pieces of knowledge that I never set out to look for. This is an old habit I started long before the Internet, when I would sit down in my dad’s library and read the encyclopedia Yes, I was a lonely child.
But it taught me that there is much we don’t know to ask until we trip over it, bump into it, or otherwise overcome our own inertia and find knowledge where we least expect it. Such was the case in a recent e-mail I got from my friend Stuart Silverstone at graphics.org, which referenced a site that provides a startling and amazingly well rendered animation on the topic of “Universcale,” which was created by Nikon. I won’t try to define the term for you, just click the link and look for yourself.
So why do I bring this up in a blog about innovation? Stumbling upon Stuart’s e-mail reminded me of how often innovation is simply a matter of perspective. How we look at a problem defines it and how we solve it. Solutions are almost always right in front of us, but if you look at anything the same way for too long, you’ll never get out of your own line of sight.
Think about it as you travel through Universcale.
Realizing what you’re made of (it’s more than you think!)
Imagine this: You’re in perfect health, you work out, and you feel younger than ever. You have a thriving consulting practice with one of the world’s leading companies. Then you wake up one day and a few hours later your world gets turned upside down. You’re paralyzed from the waist down. What would you do?
That’s exactly what I focused on during >The Innovation Zone Blog Talk Radio Show for my interview with Glenn Mangurian. Glenn made that unimaginable journey and went on to write one of the most popular Harvard Business Review articles of 2007, “Realizing What You’re Made Of.”
Glenn is one of the most engaging and fascinating people I’ve ever met. He gives new dimension to the term resilience. But he also convinces you that your own resilience is probably much higher than you might think.
Recent articles by Tom Koulopoulos
• Tom Koulopoulos: Musical mentoring and New Year’s reflections have much in common
• Tom Koulopoulos: Painful technology: Can you hear me now?
• Leveling a top-heavy world, one laptop at a time
• Tom Koulopoulos: Innovative teams point the way to discovery
• Tom Koulopoulos: Flat world could make dotcom bubble look tame
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