Running a Red Light is Dangerous in Innovation

Is Running a Red Light Dangerous in Innovation?How often have we left it too late and we are suddenly under pressure. We need to get to that critical meeting and we take risks,  so we cross, or ‘run the red light’. If we get to this point we are not just the ones in danger but we more than often involve others in this stupidity, with potential serious consequences for all involved.

Care in Intersections

Organizations so often leave their own futures to the last minute by failing to recognize or acknowledge they are running out of time, the situation they have been so use too for such a long time has suddenly changed. Well, for the vast majority, there was nothing “sudden” about it, they simply left it too late, ignoring all the warning signs and they decided to run that “red light” as a last minute panic to catch up and be back in charge of their innovation destiny.

Often all organizations want to do is get back in control, revert to being comfortable, managing “as usual” but in the process have missed so much innovation opportunity in these panic moments because they did not plan for it. They just had a simple failure in not anticipating and thinking ahead, they “ran the amber”, not being alert to their surroundings and wanting to learn so as to adapt to changing conditions. Not being open and receptive to reacting and exploring, in different more flexible ways, they simply have no time to manage changing events, they are suddenly out of their comfort zone. They spin out of control and lose all traction.

Anticipation is something that always needs us being in “heighten awareness”

It doesn’t matter if it is driving a car, positioning ourselves to receive a pass on the football field we all need to anticipate, to be aware, to get into this ‘heighten awareness’, into the position to “receive”. Otherwise, we are often left as the suckers or the ones that deal with the after effects. So why is it, that organizations’ are so poor at developing heighten awareness?

As we appreciate “heightened awareness” is the idea of “having a higher appreciation, knowledge of, and consciousness of your connection between the physical plane, and the spiritual plane”. Or in organizations speak, knowing what is going on, both inside your organization and connecting it to the market place. Heightening our awareness for innovation needs consistent renewal and anticipation, being alert to changes taking place in and around in our environments.

It is in this “heighten awareness” we can bring together observation and listening skills from what we can gather from the market place. Often in this state we are discovering unmet needs, jobs-to-be-done that customers need solutions for. You can’t achieve this if you are not alert and clearly drawn into yourself, often in the mistaken belief you know. You know what it takes, how long it takes and you simply relax and suddenly you are caught out, as you cut corners and get caught out by others who have taken the time and invested in this “heightened awareness” plane and thought through their innovation journey.

These are the ones who don’t need to ‘run the red light’ as they allowed enough  time to be totally aware of their environment and  found innovation opportunity on each street corner, because they were alert to what was going on around them. They not only planned the journey, they took the time to enjoy and remind themselves of why they were travelling in the first place, not just to get to the next destination as quickly as possible but to get there through appreciating the how, where and what as their contribution to improving “things”. When we simply get caught up in our day-to-day lives, our world, our needs, we disconnect and then we again, simply, ‘run the red light’ as we need to suddenly, simply, just catch up but often it is just too late.

Developing Organizational Awareness

We do need to be so much more proactive. That is so easy to offer as a “catchy” solution as we can’t add a further one hour into our crowded days so easily but it is strange but whenever we are “proactive” we are stopping, reflecting and starting to structure our days far more consciously. We confront face-to-face that running out of time, that flirting with danger by “jumping the red lights.” We begin to systematically break down short and long-term organizational needs based more on what is going on all around us, so we can lessen the pressures, heighten the understanding and simply allow more tuning in to innovation opportunity that is on that “every corner”. This growing awareness begins to “process” the vast number of variables that must be analyzed before a true solution can be delivered because we have allowed some thinking and experimental time and worked out the journey a little bit more. Our minds actually unclutter as we sort our thinking and build in more proactive.

Being inquisitive, being curious, being aware

Innochat, ( a weekly one-hour, highly fast paced “twitter chat” that goes on each week on Thursday, is a place for anyone who cares to contribute to the innovating topic of that week, and in this past particular week we discussed curiosity. In writing this post I made a further connection in my reflections from these exchanges. Let me explain, Drew Marshall, who facilitated this session, offered a “framing post” around curiosity and one point just struck such a cord for me here: Curiosity in Intersections – the way in which thinking between subjects leads to innovation.

In Drew’s blog piece he talks about multi-switching where we need to recognize patterns and discern what these mean. In Drew’s view it is the innovators ability to rapidly switch from one area of curiosity to another. Then he discusses multi-tasking as something potentially different. In multi-tasking an individual is moving quickly from one activity, or task within an activity, to another. Drew points out that the multi-tasker’s brain cannot fully focus when multitasking and therefore takes longer to complete tasks and they are predisposed to error.

We are caught today in a world of multi-tasking and as this seems to be quickening so perhaps we are more “predisposed” to increasing error. We are running the red light more often. We can’t stop the need to multi-task otherwise we just get left behind but we can stop and think more of the “what if?” to anticipate, to be more alert, to raise our heightened awareness. As we cross intersections we do need to be far more aware of the connections, not just of the dangers but of the emerging possibilities.

Organizations need to be alert to the dangers of multi-tasking for this risk of increased error.

We do need a “heightened awareness” of what innovation means and as more multi-tasking, more projects are being pushed on existing “everyday work” the risks of “running this red light” is increasing rapidly. If organizations continue to “push” even harder, then they run the danger of risking more than they expected. More crashes leading to more crisis, to then be managed and then missing out on the alternatives that time helps to allow.

We all certainly need to allow more time

Allowing little time to be aware, to be inquisitive, to spend time investigating, discovering and listening to your customers means you are ignoring the ‘amber’ warning light and suddenly and too late you cross the red light, where you are in real danger of a critical crash- a crash where people leave, because they can’t stand the ‘fear’ or ‘ignorance’ anymore, the fact that there is a new juggernaut crossing your intersection at the same time and you didn’t see it coming and it smashes into you and the result can be fatal.

We must recognize for innovation to thrive, you need to allow time, you need to be fully aware of where the possibilities might be and they are often on every corner. Just don’t cross the red light, rushing to get somewhere and you miss all the positive signals around you and also don’t allow enough time to sense the dangers that might be coming towards you from every direction.

Arrive safely by driving appropriately.

I saw a quote:“I think that growth and spiritual awareness come in slow increments. Sometimes you don’t know its happening”- Mariel Hemingway.

I would argue those that seek and plan, that allow appropriate time and be responsive to others needs, will find “awareness” can come not just in these “incremental moments” but in powerful innovative “waves” due to this heightened awareness. None of us should run the risk of crossing on a red light when it comes to thinking about innovation, always feeling under pressure, desperate, we must allow innovation to “arrive” through the space and time needed for allowing those illuminating moments to (ful)fill your innovation journey.

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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft is recognized for his consistency to champion and informs on innovation. He focuses on building innovation capacity, competencies, and capabilities and promotes innovation in informative, creative and knowledgeable ways, piecing together the broader understanding of innovation. Paul continually constructs a series of novel and relevant frameworks to help advance this innovation understanding and writes mainly through his posting site of where he regularly publishes his thinking and research based on solutions that underpin his advisory, coaching and consulting work at




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No Comments

  1. Michael Fruhling on April 2, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Hi Paul: Your thoughtful post made me think of all of the innovation projects where timetables never take into account that things can and do go wrong…so, folks are continually seeking to cut corners to play “catch up”. I realize that isn’t precisely what you are describing, but it is part of the same problem.

    Best regards,


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