Innovation is a Choice

Innovation is a ChoiceA body in motion tends to stay in motion, unless it’s perturbed by an external force.  And, it’s the same with people – we keep doing what we’re doing until there’s a reason we cannot. If it worked, there’s no external force to create changes, so we do more of what worked. If it didn’t work, while that should result in an external force strong enough to create change, often it doesn’t and we try more of what didn’t work, but try it harder. Though the scenarios are different, in both the external force is insufficient to create new behavior.

In order to know which camp you’re in, it’s important to know how we decide between what worked and what didn’t (or between working and not working). To decide, we compare outcomes to expectations, and if outcomes are more favorable than our expectations, it worked; if less favorable, it didn’t. It’s strange, but true – what we expect delineates what worked from what didn’t and what’s good enough from what isn’t. In that way, it’s our choice.

Whether our business model is working, isn’t working, or hasn’t worked, what we think and do about it is our choice. What that means is, regardless of the magnitude of the external force, we decide if it’s large enough to do our work differently or do different work. And because innovation starts with different, what that means is innovation is a choice – our choice.

Really, though, external forces don’t create new behavior, internal forces do. We watch the culture around us and sense the external forces it creates on us, then we look inside and choose to apply the real force behind innovation – our intrinsic motivation. If we’re motivated by holding on to what we have, we’ll spend little of our life force on innovation. If we’re motivated by a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo, we’ll empty our tank in the name of innovation.

Who is tasked with innovation at your company is an important choice, because while the tools and methods of innovation can be taught, a person’s intrinsic motivation, a fundamental forcing function of innovation, cannot.

image credit – Ed Yourdon

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Mike ShipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.

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