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I was thinking about “ideas” today and how they seem to arrive on a slipstream of vapor, float across our consciousness and then leave through our ears, since those are the closest exits to our brains. They are often processed in quick order, freeing our minds up for the next task or the next random thought that seems interesting.
It doesn’t seem that most ideas are acted upon. In fact, it seems that most ideas get pushed through a standardized filter and are quickly discarded when they:
- Don’t solve an immediate problem;
- Can’t possibly make us rich or famous;
- Require too much work; and/or
- Are something nobody else can see the value of.
In construction companies, ideas offer the chance to look exceedingly brilliant, or amazingly stupid. So, many people just let the ideas flow right out their ears because the risk is just too great.
Over at The Heart of Innovation the writer offers the idea that innovation is often radically helped out by accident. Penicillin, vulcanized rubber and Post-It notes all came about quite by accident. But then, someone recognized the value in the accidents and had ideas about uses for them. They followed through.
(THIS POST WAS UPDATED 7/30/2012 FROM HERE DOWN, TO REMOVE BROKEN LINKS AND INFORMATION PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED FROM THOSE LINKS, AND TO ADD NEW INFORMATION FROM NEW SOURCES ALONG WITH APPROPRIATE LINKS)
Lisa Barone at the Business Insider (she’s no longer there) laments the follow-the-leader syndrome in today’s business culture where everybody is trying to build something on everyone else’s original ideas. She wrote:
You’re noting what’s working from your competitor and you’re finding ways to integrate the same thing into your business. The problem is you’re not bettering what they’re doing. You’re just adding it on like an also-ran. That’s not innovation. That’s reactive catch up. It’s not how you stand out, it’s not how you steal market, it’s not how you create a point of difference for your company.
There seems to be widespread agreement by the people who write about innovation that it’s something that must be fostered from the top down. In her revealing interview with Executive Travel Magazine, Suzanne Fetscher, MFA, president of the McColl Center for Visual Art, an international artists’ think tank in Charlotte, N.C., made it clear the push from the top is necessary, both because the process of inspiring innovation has to be funded, and because it has to be important enough to prevent it from being placed on the back burner for “when there’s time.” She said that’s especially important during tough economic times.
“The natural tendency during uncertain economic times is to look for ways to reduce costs, which for many companies means reductions in advertising, marketing, and research and development. These companies are fundamentally eating their seed corn and setting the stage for even further decline. They are also failing to position themselves for the next upturn, which historically has always occurred.”
Fetscher mentioned these tips for creating and maintaining innovative company cultures:
- Leaders must realize the opportunistic and challenging aspects of their own creativity.
- Leaders have to recognize that everyone is innately creative.
- Creativity and innovation must be built into the company’s processes.
- Companies have to foster environments that stress the free flow of ideas.
- Companies must make the processes that encourage innovation as accountable as any other business process.
While construction is often hamstrung on the innovation front due to codes, specifications and the “way it’s always been done,” that doesn’t mean it has to be creatively uninspired. Who would have thought that the time worn process of framing a wall could ever be changed, but it was, several years ago to make the framing more amenable to insulation, yielding more energy-efficient buildings. Most industry watchers also point out that construction has a productivity problem, and has for a long time. Innovation on that front, and many others related to day-to-day business practices are ripe for some creativity and fresh ideas.
When I look at the world through my own distorted and filter-ridden lenses, ideas appear to be the things that bring freshness to the view. They are kind of like how the air feels right after the storm has passed – all fresh and cool. Maybe we need to start capturing a few of them before they slip out our ears.