Hacking Away at Innovation’s Undergrowth

Hacking Away at Innovation's UndergrowthSo you have your trusty machete, sharp, well-balanced and honed to cut through all the undergrowth that presently ‘pins you in’ and move towards the innovation land. You plan to beat a path to the promised land, where you have heard it is full of milk and honey from the occasional traveler that was passing through, who keeps telling you wonderful stories.

So you begin: you chop, you clear, your slash and you burn. At the end of the day you feel proud of what you have cleared, you put your machete away for another day. Tomorrow you will again attack the undergrowth that holds you back from innovation, the promised land.

Sadly when you awake in the morning, you wake up with an aching back, tired muscles and a realization that for all your hard work, you seem to have made such little progress. You look around and you feel a little inadequate with all that hard work you had thought you had put in, yet it seems so little in achievement. You certainly spent a lot of energy but seemingly for such a little return or so it seems, one little cleared patch still in the same forest you have lived in for years.

You face a critical decision. Do I go on, with yet another day, upon seemingly day of equally hard work, of back-breaking endeavor in the belief that this ‘promised land’ is going to be worth all this effort, or do I return to my present existence that has got me to this point so far?

Innovation it seems is just hard work. Simply awfully hard work. We can all stay where we are, working the existing land, extracting out the very best the land can offer, knowing each year the yield gets smaller and smaller and pushing off the day where you get no yield at all. Equally, you can ‘acquire’ and be forced to move to another part of our woods with some minimum disruption to sustain your present existence. Not a bad option, just some minimum inconveniences, some need for some simple adjustments but you can quickly go back to ‘business as usual’. But, what of this alternative that seems so far away?

The alternative, told to us by strangers from a promised land and nicely described in an article by@ovoinnovation: Strangers in a Strange Land is learning to begin to  speak and operate in new worlds. Do I really want to travel to that new world, it does seem like so much hard work and set about to learn a new language, practice different customs and maybe have to work under new laws and ways of doing things?

It is such an easy decision, lets stay a little longer. Only when it is often too late we suddenly realize the world we know has changed, the land is barren, it yields no more and we are in crisis. Many don’t survive, we heard of that strange illness that inflicted itself on others, even though they worked and worked, they just simply got weaker and weaker as the others from this foreign land invaded and destroyed. They were not equipped to fend for themselves as their tools were out of date, fashioned for a previous period and the invaders seemed better equipped.

The alternative, hard as it seem, like it or not, we are forced or just simply decide to go while we can, while we have still have some force and opportunity, to gather our resources. We expend it all in that back-breaking energy to attack that undergrowth that has grown up around us. So we can begin a tough, exhausting journey where that promised land we think lies. It means massive commitment.

Do we trust those strangers, do we believe there are places that will give us a better future or do we return to tilling our existing ground?

It is never an easy decision to make, to rip up much of the ways you have been producing but when you have spent some weeks, some months cutting away the jungle, you look back and you can see the distance you have already traveled. You realize you are gaining another perspective.

Amazingly some of your neighbors joined in and now you have ten, sometimes twenty machete’s cutting away at the undergrowth. You can already hear a different roar, a different sense of purpose and you can sense  in a new set of sounds, of people excited, that they have equally decided in undertaking this venture. It is still far away but they feel that new excitement and you redouble your efforts to  push on.

Innovation is a journey, when you make fresh steps full of uncertainty as it is made up of a type of energy that raises fear but it also raises your pulse, gives you fresh impetus. It is how you channel this, where you direct it, will make it worthwhile or not. The simple message is if we don’t start the journey we will never experience the ‘rush’ and achievement of recognizing the decision was the only right one.

Are you hacking away at your jungle, moving towards places that seem to offer more? Does the sounds of innovation heard in the stories of others, make you want to seek them out?

I hope so, listen not just to the strangers but venture forth with more confidence and listen to your own heart and head that the innovation pathway does simply makes sense.

Innovation, is it the land of milk and honey, who knows until you explore it? There are no guarantees but perhaps  it is far better than the thinning gruel on offer if you stay ignoring the value of innovation and stay caught up in less options to manage in this challenging world.

image credit: layoutsparks.com

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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.

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2 Responses to Hacking Away at Innovation’s Undergrowth

  1. Emily Merkle says:

    I came upon this missive at the right place, right time. Thank you.

    • John Wolpert says:

      Right place, right time…that is the key.

      Most of the time in business, even today with shortening business model cycles, the Pivot (which is what Lean Startup folk would call this sort of journey…one I’ve lived through more than once) is not something a company should decide to do very often. Innovators after a while will call the sumptuous meals in your current oasis “gruel”. That’s what we do as innovators…we like “different.” But don’t be fooled. To brazenly switch metaphors: Sometimes you can miss the goldmine in your own back yard looking for treasures abroad.

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