One morning 2 weeks ago my daughter came down stairs dressed and ready for school with a very interesting design on top of her head. She had combined an alice-band with a scrunchie to be used with that days hair design. She proudly announced to all who would listen that she looked like Po (the red Telly Tubby). My wife took one look at this and said something to the effect of, ‚You can’t go to school like that. You look funny.‛
‚Aaggh‛, I though to myself, ‚it’s starting already.‛
Our ability to comprehend and process frameworks increases as we get older. A small child, for example, cannot understand that the family pet is both a dog and a puppy. It can only be one of them. Any attempt to persuade them any different will only lead to confusion and not understanding. As we get older, our ability to deal with the complexity of different, but complimentary frameworks increases.
This ability is directly related to creativity and innovation. It is the frameworks that we have developed that prevent us from ‘thinking out of the box’. The ‘box’ being the particular framework or worldview that we are using in that context. An understanding of your own framework, as well as the many that exist increases our ability to escape the trappings of our particular worldview.
While our natural development seems to point to our increasing ability to engage in creative thought processes, there are societal forces that come into play from an early age (as I discovered 2 weeks ago), that work against this development, by strongly encouraging us to conform to a particular, and apparently socially acceptable ‘correct’ framework. Any frameworks that support this worldview are accepted, any that work against it or are different, are rejected. In my daughters particular case it had to do with how you arrange the objects used to ‘organise’ your hair.
It seems that life is a movement from simplicity through complexity back to simplicity. Unfortunately the peak of our complexity happens before we hit 5 years old. In fact, using my daughter as my research sample, I’d like to suggest that the average human being enjoys no more than 6 months of completely ‘free from interruption time’ of creativity before they enter the slippery slope toward conformity. This all happens in approximately your third year of life. (yes I know I may have over-simplified this, but even that proves my point)
Back in the world of older people, one cannot escape the innovation invasion currently happening in business circles. Gurus are popping up all over the place. Books, magazines, newspapers. They’re all carrying innovation advice and success stories. Business schools are advertising courses, and consultants are preparing for an innovation economic windfall. And, while it may not be scientifically accurate to base my thesis on a few observations of my daughters short existence, I’d like to raise just one innovation related question that is somehow related‌
Who will give me permission to innovate?
Can I really trust that when I bring my innovative thoughts and ideas forward that you’ll listen? Take me seriously? Entertain my attempts to suggest new ways to do things? I’ve tried before. Remember?
“When I came to you last year and suggested that because I spent Sunday afternoon sending e-mail I’d like to spend Tuesday afternoon watching a movie you dismissed my thoughts as wishful thinking?
“When I suggested that perhaps we should allow staff to bring their children into work when they needed help, because most of our staff take work home, you laughed at me?
“When I offered to investigate how much it would cost to hire a ‘big screen’ TV for the canteen, so those that wanted to, could watch the World Cup, you didn’t even respond?
I know these examples aren’t the industry changing innovation you hope for, but they do represent a start in some ‘out of the box’ thinking.
Our lives are a sad story of being driven toward conformity and fewer and fewer frameworks. Think the same, look the same, be the same. Innovation requires that we move away from the sameness and embrace the different. It means looking like Po (Telly Tubby) at times; thinking like me at others; experiencing an afternoon in the factory with her, talking on the street to him, having lunch at that place with them; visiting those shops we never wanted to be caught dead in.
While the innovation experts spin their how to’s and how not to’s, there are people in our organisations that need to be given permission to innovate. Someone has to re-assure them that it’s OK to think, do, talk, and be different.
Innovation is not going to happen easily on its own. It’s going to take a very deliberate strategy to make sure that there is no-one left out of this new drive toward creativity and complexity. A move away from our journey to simplicity. Returning at last to our natural development path, the journey I need to make sure my 3 year old stays firmly on.
If you’re somehow connected to others in your organisation, what are you going to do today to begin to re-assure them that it’s OK to think differently? How will you invite them to tell you a fresh thought they had just this morning, and tomorrow morning, and the morning after that? How will you respond to the conversations that sound like they originated on another planet? Do you really want to put yourself at risk of having someone like me sit down in front of you, and present that industry changing innovation, that books are written about, and billions are made? I bet you’re not? Don’t worry though, I probably won’t be walking through your door any time soon.
Not until you give me permission to innovate!

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