We all seek to innovate for different reasons. Sometimes it’s that we feel the world is changing and we risk being left behind. Sometimes it’s because the issue we’re working to address hasn’t gone away, has gotten worse, or has changed. Sometimes it’s because we simply feel that we must.
In April’s edition of Engage! I challenged us all to reflect on the reasons why we seek to innovate. Our motivations have a powerful effect on the work that actually gets done, and with innovation being as popular and undefined as it is, it is easy to lose sight of why exactly we want new ways of thinking and acting.
I’ve come across three consistent reasons that people, organizations, and communities engage in the process of innovation – in the process of introducing new ways of working, new ways of viewing our problems, and new tools to address our social challenges. What is most striking is that each of these driving reasons has their own unique blind spots that can undermine our efforts if left unchecked.
One of the primary reasons people seek to innovate is a persistent social issue. Being frustrated that homelessness, poverty, climate change, income inequality, and so on, still proliferate today is a compelling reason to want to work differently. But, before you dive in, do you actually understand what matters to those affected by the issue, or do you only think that you understand? Do you know what the right points to change are, and do you have the right people in place to change them? Not thinking critically and acting upon these questions can lead to failed initiatives and perpetuating the marginalization of our communities’ most vulnerable members.
Perhaps instead, you’re innovating to stay ahead, or to stay afloat. The times are ever-changing and we all feel the need to stay current to keep up. But, will this take us away from the impact that we hope to make? How much are we willing to compromise? and, counter to the drive to innovate, what shouldn’t we change about ourselves and our communities? What is strong that we should stand by?
Exploring our purpose for seeking innovation not only helps guide our efforts, it also clarifies the basic assumptions that we make about our communities – assumptions that may or may not be true. With that in mind, what drives you?