Instead, innovation work happens in the middle of the storm where bands of rain burst, thunder claps and ominous clouds tower above you. Those days are intense. They keep you moving and adjusting your plans in response to these powerful forces of nature.
As innovators, how can you thrive during these stormy days of uncertainty? This is a critical question that many don’t get right. Many innovators I’ve met run into the storm but come out all wet . . . with precious little to show for it. Burnout is common. Failure often leads to discouragement and a misunderstanding of an innovator’s role and abilities.
|Lockett, Texas (Ryan Shepard/Silver Lining Tours)|
Recently I saw this picture from Texas that got my attention. It isn’t often that you see a rainbow and a tornado in the same moment. But as I thought more about the picture, I began to see it as a powerful metaphor for thriving in the discipline of innovation.
Given that we do our work in the storms of life, how do you thrive? I think the secret is in that picture. As we navigate the stormy innovation process, we have to learn how to run to the rainbows and dodge the tornados.
Rainbows represent the key learning that we are seeking from our experimentation efforts. Remember that the key outcome of innovation is not greater revenue or better systems. Instead, the key outcome is learning, which leads to the ability to build programs that generate revenue and enhance existing systems. By intentionally chasing these bursts of learning, you see key insights between the storm clouds and torrential downpours, and this makes the storms so worthwhile.
Tornadoes represent the traps that flatten your innovation efforts in minutes. These destructive traps could be internal politics, relational blowups or bad innovation discipline. Whatever the reason, running into a tornado is always disastrous. It distracts you from your objectives, fills you with doubt and creates confusion on your team. You simply have to look at a home that has been flattened by a tornado to imagine the damage it can do to your project.
My guess is that the question foremost on your mind is, “So what can I do to find those elusive rainbows and avoid those dangerous tornadoes?” Great question! Here are three ideas to help you navigate the storms of innovation work:
1. Be aware of your surroundings. Never put your head down so much that you can’t stay very aware of your environment. Innovation requires quick adjustments and a high level of spatial awareness.
2. Remember that rainbows don’t last forever. How many times have you seen a rainbow only to have it fade or disappear entirely before you could show it to someone else? Rainbows require your full attention when they happen. It is the same with innovation insights.
3. Take tornadoes seriously. Many times, I’ve minimized the dangers of relationship struggles, political plays or sloppy execution. Minimizing these things can lead to big surprises. Take destructive forces in your market, organization, relationships or processes seriously and address them.
So don’t be discouraged if many of your days are stormy. Revel in the rainbows and run away from the tornados.