Plus Ca Change
The September issue of Inc. contains what the magazine calls "The Inc. 500," their list of the "fastest growing, best run, most innovative, and most inspiring private companies in America." The message in this is clear to me before I even look at the list: innovation is good. This dovetails with what I already believe: the ability to come up with new ways of doing things is a valuable skill; it's good to be a creative thinker.
I am fascinated by studies about how creativity happens, about what takes place neurologically in the brain to cause a connection spurring the thinker in a new direction. I myself strive to be a creative thinker and to develop new concepts and approaches. I am therefore surprised to discover an article in this very same issue of Inc. entitled, "You're Not That Innovative (and That's OK)." In an era of buzzwords like "disruptive" and "transformational," how could it be ok not to be an innovator?
Why do we innovate? We innovate because we're frustrated by old and slow ways of getting the job done. We innovate to make money, to get attention. We innovate because the world we envision is one that, in our view, requires progress, and progress means change, and innovation leads to change. But innovation can be a challenging process, and implementing change has stymied many an estimable legacy company. And while we're taught to believe that forward thinking is admirable, it isn't always the case.
I learned from personal experience that being ahead of the curve is not always a good thing, and that ideas can be so new, so unusual, that they scare people off. I recall two book proposals I tried to place with publishers when I was a literary agent in the late 90s. One was a "Dummies" style guide to the bible by a hip young California preacher. Publishers were offended. Another was an exposé of sexual violence against women in the military by their male peers. Editors were reluctant to believe. Neither of these books found publishers. Now, however, there is in fact The Bible for Dummies (and one for Idiots too!), and rape in the military, a terrible problem, is all over the news.