The Fuel for Innovation

Innovation happens due to constraint.

Craig Groeschel

There are many people who view innovation as this far away concept that happens best in a think tank dedicated to coming up with the next thing. Or maybe, that it happens because a person or organization is fully resourced and staffed and has the time to sit around and dream and think of new ways to do something. Or there’s the idea that it is limited to only a few very creative people that have something the rest of us don’t as they walk around with their notebooks and hang out in coffee shops and parks. The reality is far away from any of these.

There are many preconceived notions about innovation that just are not based in reality at all.

The truth is, innovation happens everywhere in all walks of life from all types of people. If you follow the enneagram, the idea is creativity is limited 4s and maybe 7s. If you don’t follow the enneagram you might think creativity is limited to artists and others who are not you. Every one has the ability to create and innovate. Let me say that again, every person, including YOU, can create and innovate.

YOU are creative. YOU are innovative.

The human mind is amazing. In fact, I believe you were created to create. Regardless of your religious or creation views, science proves the time and time again that the human brain has incredible capacity and is ever changing and improving. Your brain, your mind can do so much more than you are even aware of at the moment. The funny thing is, when you were a child, you understood this. As children, our minds are constantly open to creativity and newness because everything is new. As a child, everything and anything is possible at any time. There is no realism or practicality to get in our way when we are young.

As we grow up and get older, too many of us lose the sense of possibility and get stuck in the “real world”.

Now before I continue, I am in no way suggesting we cast aside reality and ignore responsibility. I am simply stating that it is a shame some of what we lose as we get older that causes us to believe the lie that we are not creative or able to innovate.

So what is the fuel for innovation? I think there are four drivers and one fuel to creativity and innovation. I’ll start with the drivers.

SCARCITY

When we lack something, we tend to get very creative, very fast. There’s a commercial that illustrates this in a funny way. A young lady is trying to make dinner for a date coming over and it is not going well. She calls her dad on a video chat device and he helps her create a meal with what is on hand. Creative.

I have seen this in family, in sports, and in business. Whenever there is a shortage of something, we find ways to get the job done and move forward.

Children are amazing at this. Given a few minutes, children can create a whole world to play in out of almost nothing. It’s where the whole joke about just giving kids cardboard boxes for Christmas comes from. Sticks becomes swords or staffs or mansions when laid out on the ground. Blankets and chairs become castles and forts. Towels are capes. On and on it goes.

In the business world, we see companies take very little and turn it into a whole lot as they innovate. A young lady wanting to wear a white dress to an event takes some pantyhose and creates what is now a multi-billion dollar company as she became the youngest ever self-made female billionaire. (Sara Blakely, founder of SPANX)

Scarcity forces us to either give up and walk away or innovate to make things happen.

Too often, those with the resources find it the hardest to innovate and do something new. This is well documented as we see companies that start out small and fast and innovative as they get larger and more complex they innovate less. Many would say this has happened to Apple. Even before the loss of Steve Jobs, it seemed that Apple wasn’t innovating as much as just incrementally improving. This not to say there is no innovation in Apple. It’s just that now they have more money than anyone, they can buy out others and don’t have any lack to drive them to innovate.

Hollywood is innovating less than ever as there is no lack of money or resources. We are even seeing less new material and more reboots and remakes coming out of Hollywood due to it’s less risky to go that route.

It is always harder to innovate when we have plenty. Kids with lots of toys don’t have to use as much imagination as kids with just a few.

Scarcity drives innovation.

PROBLEMS

Most of the best inventions came as a solution to a problem. We tend to spend our lives trying to avoid problems. Comfort and ease have become the modern mantra.

Problems create tension and tension creates a desire to solve. The desire to solve leads to creativity and innovation.

Let’s learn to seek out the problems and embrace them as opportunities for new possibilities and innovation. Over and over again, we are told that this generation needs purpose. Maybe one of the reasons this is so prevalent is we have spent the last several decades clearing out the problems and making things too easy and comfortable. The generations before us found purpose easier because the problems were more obvious and just made daily life more of a struggle.

Finding problems to solve is purpose. It’s a grand purpose. It it drives innovation.

CONSTRAINT

This goes hand in hand with scarcity, but is different. This is also what kicked off this post as a quote from Craig Groeschel that I heard him say at a recent conference.

Scarcity is lack of resources. Constraint is the obstacles we face or outside sources holding us back. Constraint can be due to scarcity. It can also be due to fear, stuck thinking, rules, bureaucracy, threats, and on and on.

Whenever there is a constraint, we either let it go and stay within the status quo or we innovate ways around the constraint.

There was a time when gravity was a constraint. Even church leaders were known to state that man would never overcome gravity and was not meant to fly. Then two brothers cast off constraint and proved the world wrong. As a result, tomorrow I will board a giant steel and aluminum tube with a couple of hundred others and travel 2000 miles in a matter of a few hours at 36,000 feet above the ground.

There was also a time with scientists believed that traveling faster than 5o miles per hour would physiologically harm a human. Most of us will exceed that speed multiple times today.

Constraint drives innovation.

DESPERATION

This one is somewhat obvious. A desperate human is capable of amazing things.

I have often heard it said in one form or another some idea of what caused the first person to try a particular food. It was likely hunger, desperation.

So many things in life have come out of the desperation of someone somewhere at sometime. When we are desperate enough we will try almost anything. We will do things we would not have imagined before. Desperation is a powerful driver toward creativity and innovation.

Of course, there is a shadow side to these as not all innovations have been positive toward the human condition. But these have been the drivers for innovation throughout all of time.

This brings us to the fuel of innovation.

CURIOSITY

This is the biggest thing we lose as we get older and gain more knowledge. We stop asking real questions. We stop exploring. Thus we stop innovating and become less and less creative as we rely on what we know and have learned.

The truth is, it is safer to not be curious. We all know the saying about curiosity did to the cat. I hate that saying! It is used to hold us back and keep us from trying something new.

It’s as simple as what keeps many people from knowing how to use technology. Fear of doing something wrong and not being able to fix it outweighs their curiosity. Fear and knowledge are the biggest enemies to curiosity. The older we get the more fear and knowledge take over our lives.

To truly innovate requires curiosity. Creativity demands it. Curiosity leads to new experiences and new ideas and new ways of doing things and new accomplishments every day.

The most creative people do have something that others don’t: a curiosity that supersedes fear. It’s not that they don’t fear. They do. Their curiosity is enough that they will press forward through the fear and in spite of it.

Living life with curiosity is an amazing way to live. It brings wonder and joy. It opens up new doors and new life. It asks the questions “why?” and “why not?” at the same time. Curiosity builds bridges with others (subject for another post). Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it made the cat’s life more interesting.

Curiosity is the fuel for innovation.

What is the most exciting way you have seen any of these play out in your life?

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