August 5, 2014
Innovation Requires Discomfort

Feeling comfortable? Then you’re probably not innovating.

You don’t have to work for a Fortune 100 company or a high-tech start-up to realize that the future is only as bright as the fire that burns within your organization: innovation.

But at its heart, innovation requires discomfort. It means changing the status quo. This forces you to be humble but also honest about the potential gaps that exist between your operational potential and the competencies of the team sitting around the table.

When you lead a company or a department, humility may feel a bit disturbing. But those who are truly seeking to innovate must be willing to step off the pedestal as subject matter experts. If someone on your staff (perhaps you?) bases credibility on “how many years they’ve been doing this,” take note. Longevity is no endorsement of the ability to lead an innovation revolution.

Another source of worry and discomfort comes with the high probability of failure on the path to innovative thinking. However, these failures can become a catalyst for profound change within your organization.

History shows us that the “changes” we make generally boomerang right back to us. Perhaps we adopt a new tagline, new view or new positioning, but with no fundamental differences in the way we operate. That’s because it’s uncomfortable to address our own need to step out, step aside or, at a minimum, make room for diverse opinions and backgrounds.

The key to creating meaningful change within an organization is a willingness to embrace diversity of thought and talent in the company’s environment. Diversity means variety – a complete range of differences. Einstein put it this way: “We cannot solve a problem by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Diversity should not be an objective. It must be a belief system, a deliberate strategy and a commitment. We have to believe that our products, services, customers and culture will be better served with a diverse set of minds collaborating.

New thinking may require you to seek new brainpower from new people, and that may require a dose of uncomfortable humility on your part. To really commit to innovation and growth, you’ll need to invite new perspectives to the table. But it’s not enough to simply recruit diversity into your ranks. You must demand it from the talent you already have. Move the great minds you’ve already hired from their comfort zones into uncharted waters.

Steve Jobs said, “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea.” And when Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, addressed the graduating class of Boston University, he said, “Innovation is disruptive. You know you are innovating when people are worried about you! Make people worry. Give them a shock. Try something new.”

Look around your own hallways. If everything and everyone looks familiar and feels comfortable, it may be time for some of that shock treatment. Your growth and your very survival may depend on it.

Dan Veitkus
Dan Veitkus is the Managing Partner at Corsica Partners, a global executive search and integrated talent management firm based in Boston, MA, USA. Dan’s clients value the practical and relevant insights he brings to the executive search and leadership coaching process as a former operating executive.  He is the author of Straight Talk Your Way to Success. Prior to entering the field of executive search and coaching, Dan served 20 years as a business leader and executive for private and public companies in the telecom, software and corporate learning sectors.

Other Articles by Dan Veitkus:

Getting To The Point: Why Straight Talk Is What Your Company Needs Most

Why CEOs Should Beware The Shifty Shades Of Gray

Serenity Now: Why Servant Leaders Take Time To Recharge

Talk Less, Achieve More

The One Attribute All ‘Servant Leaders’ Have In Common