“I don’t think of my life as a career. I do stuff. I respond to stuff. That’s not a career – it’s a life!” -Steve Jobs. This is what has inspired me to write this edition of my blog. Whether you consider the life of Steve Jobs or that of Bill Gates or even that of Beethoven, people who have been known to innovate and commercialize their innovations successfully, have made very different life choices compared to “regular” people. When I use the time commercialize here it is not from the narrow definition of money earned but from a wider perspective of making a difference to the lives of the consumer of such innovation. Life to these innovators was about living, of seeing a seed sprout and become a tree. Not for them the risk averse college degree, a secure job, a family and the humdrum of existence. They are constantly sensing and responding (yes responding and not reacting) to the context of life, not the conditions of their environment. They made their life choices early and thus escaped the trap of the difficulty of reinventing the course of their life as conditions changed. In most cases, they have had the distinction of dictating the conditions in their respective spheres.
The critical part that an innovator differentiates is between “Context” and “Condition”. While context is created, condition exists. The former demands “Response” while the latter necessitates “Reaction”. While the term Context is bandied about now as a fashionable one, is there an accurate understanding and its relevance; be it in an individual or an organization? It could make all the difference between succeeding and pretending at Innovation. Context and Response are the Yin and the Yang of the power to imagine a higher state of living and that could transcend anything such as technology, medicine or trade.
Therein lies the secret of Innovation termed as “Risk”. It is all about the fear of unknown that sensitizes people’s action. People with the ability to respond, create mechanisms of response to successful conditions that arise from the risks that they take. People who react spend their entire life time creating mechanisms for failure when the conditions they have imagined occur as an event. There is a common element here; “imagination” that drives the thinking and action of both concerned. The imagination of the former takes into consideration the uncertainties of life as a given and operates in that sphere respecting the need to persevere with the outcomes as a process of evolution. There is no fear of personal failure. The latter try to interfere and circumvent nature and in the process create a false sense of security. Here there is only protection from personal liability.
It is critical that as societies struggle to create more innovators who will contribute positively to the cause of evolution, it is necessary to create the foundation for learning. With all the distractions in today’s environment, be it in educational institutions or business organizations, it is a huge challenge to find people who are prepared to think and act in the larger interests of a cause rather than the specific merits of their performance. One cannot blame when the very definition of performance is narrow and short sighted. People and Institutions are victims of the Conditions that they impose upon themselves with the choices they make.
It is a good thing that we have had a Bill Gates or a Beethoven or a Steve Jobs who like Mark Twain said “never let education interfere with the process of learning”. Learning happens when life is observed and it is this which needs to be borne in mind by societies, educational institutions and commercial enterprises when they loftily talk about promoting innovation. How can we make observing life more real rather than absorb the “reality show” that we are conditioned to live in currently. How can we channel creativity once again to sense the context of life rather than the condition of surreality that is imposed upon people to react to? This will be a critical challenge to address, should innovation be a real priority anywhere; be it in Individuals, organizations, Educational Institutions and / or Societies.
While I have been passionately advocating Innovation in organizations I have been asked several times whether it is necessary and if at all it is possible? As the preceding paragraphs explain, not all of us come to life with a perspective and choices that a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates or a Beethoven made. However, there is a possibility that our potential to learn can free us from the trap of our conditions; if not individually, at least collectively as an organization to address real innovation that impacts life. This hope and motive is what paves the path of excellence. Is there a better case to be made to pursue innovation at an organizational level?