Dwelling in the Past: The biggest impediment to Innovation

As Individuals, Organizations and Society, we are we conditioned neurologically to dwell in the past? It appears that this conditioning focuses both on the negatives and the positives of the past; inhibiting the future detrimentally with equal measure in either case. It is becoming increasingly evident that most people /organizations live more in the sub-conscious state (awake but not entirely aware). And this makes them vulnerable to their achievements and their repeatability. Is it a surprise then that we rely on Insurance more than building on Assurance. How can one be successful at innovating when one seeks control of what one doesn’t know; where innovation entirely depends on managing the ambiguity of the unknown? One reacts with varied degrees of elegance when found reacting to the unanticipated,isn’t it?

Of course, those who pursue exellence as individuals or organzations will relate differently to reality, being concious and aware of little details about themselves and their environment and respond to create their place in the current context of the universe. Their responsiveness is their Assurance that allows them to live in the moment and not be influenced by their past alone. They are encouraged by the constant search for addressing the currency of the context in which they exist; which in other words may  be termed “anticipation”.

Here is an illustration. An eccentric  rich man once decided he had had enough living with the nature and returned to New York. The press followed him closely and had many questions for him on his return to what they termed civilization. They asked him about the beauty of the island where he locked himself in, the wild life, the flora and the fauna and its other various other natural treasures. The rich guy heard all of them out very patiently and then exclaimed “Oh My God, I did not know the island was so naturally endowed. Had I known, I would have examined each element more closely!”.

A key reason for this is the focus on outcomes more than the focus on the process. And clearly an inability to make a distinction between three fundamental parameters of Performance; Critical Success Factors, Key Performance Indicators and Performance Measures. An enterprise or individual performance is hinged on a very simple formula as follows:

CSF(Critical Success Factors) + KPI (Key Performance Indicators) = PM (Performance Measures)

  • Where the CSF are entirely dependent on an accurate defintion of the Context in relation to the aspirations as dictated by external environment, customers, competition and your organization’s exellence maturity.
  • KPI is a factor of your Innovation Excellence, where  you define how you drive your business focus and your core process; as create and manage demand or just manage demand.
  • And Performance is therefore a derivative rather than a mere post facto number.

As most businessses have found out by now after the last couple of years, understanding the simple formula as above can make all the difference between Surviving and Thriving. As organizations and individuals gasp and stutter from one crisis to another, the survival instincts in each one of us looks to take  the path of least resistance. Consequentially it renders our immune systems to weak that inhibits our  as well as  an enterprise’s ability to take risks. On the other hand, thriving businesses hardly ever focus on outcomes. Their focus on the process of innovation which engines their performance and growth. Thus there is a clear distinguishing factor between the Surviving and Thriving; the former operates on a departure from the past into the present while the latter  operates on a departure from the present into the future. It shouldn’t take an Einstien to figure out that those that thrive either personally or in commerce live in the present and prepare themselves to embrace the future with assurance.

Let me share another illustration with you. Two monks were returning were  walking along the to their mopnastery walking along the banks of a river when they came upon a girl drowing. The senior monk ran and dived into the river and saved the girl. He had to resusticate her before she came back to consciousness. Having assured himself that the girl was in a good condition, he continued with his journey back to the monastery. The junior suffered through the rest of two hours in silence but could not contain himself when they reached the monastery and had to go into a period of silence.  He broke out at the senior saying “what you did out there was blashphemous…haven’t we taken an oath not to touch a women? And you even resusticated here?…” The senior was   sanguine in his response. I just saved a life and moved on, but you seem to still be carrying the girl in your head.

Often there are many pragmatic steps that one needs to take in life and business based on the context and situation. Adhering to a dogma does not in any way make one responsive. And it is extremely crtical to distinguish between a dogma and a value. While the senior monk in the above illustration was saving a life and he saw the value in his actions there, the junior monk was fixated on the idea of touching a female which was against the discipline that they adhered to as monks. Without compromising on the Values, it is still possible to manage discipline whether it be an individual or an organization; when discipline is not a drill but a practice that resonates from the heart and soul. Arie de Geus who was the head of Shell Oil Company’s Strategic Planning Group had coined the term “The Living Company” and even written a book on the qualities of a living company that most companies would do well to understand and operate. Because, it is important to first live before the considerations of Surving or Thriving.


About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
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