In 1903, a human being atop the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk North Carolina piloted the first engine-powered machine known as the airplane (aero plane) – a machine that defied gravity by leaving the earth’s surface.
Two brothers, bicycle mechanics Orville and Wilbur, were inspired by a toy purchased by their father and changed civilization forever.
Here is my question: Why did it take mankind so long to achieve successful flight?
One might argue that we did not have the technology. I would argue there are greater forces at play than just the technology available to any generation.
For example, the wheel had been with the human race for thousands of years but it was not until 1970 A.D. not B.C., to install wheels on luggage. I know we had luggage before 1970, because I remember carrying it around train stations in the late 1950s.
Now this is what I find very interesting. It took civilization thousands of years to attach wheels to our luggage and yet it only took 66 years from the first flight to a walk on the moon (July 20, 1969).
“Mankind” walked on the moon before we installed wheels on luggage, meaning there were no “roller boards” in the overhead bins of Apollo 11. How is this possible? I think I have the answer.
When there is an inspired vision, commitment, motivation, desire, resources, and leadership, an individual can accomplish almost anything. President John F. Kennedy’s May 25, 1961, speech before a joint session of Congress put the “forces of innovation” into motion.
What I find so interesting is that I was one of the many millions of individuals carrying my luggage through airports and never at any time thought about installing wheels on my bag. I should not feel too bad; the folks who designed, built and launched Apollo 11 didn’t think of it either. How is this possible?
My theory: it is because we are caught up in the routine of life and fail to make a conscious attempt to recognize opportunities for creative improvement. We don’t see ourselves as innovators.
Innovation is a mindset – a way of thinking. Anyone could be an Orville or Wilbur Wright. From their childhood these two boys were told “imagine something new” by their parents. Anyone can accept this challenge to think this way or not.
Like the “on-off” switch on a lamp, electricity is flowing to the switch, but until we hit the “on” button, there will be no light. We do have the ability.
The Innovation “Switch” is Mostly Turned Off
Here is an example of the point I am making.
My claim consulting team at Willis has conducted numerous strategic risk planning (SRP) projects for our clients. An important phase of the SRP is the interview of client employees.
Most of the people interviewed are dedicated and very bright. However, we consistently find that innovation / process improvement is not a formal objective.
They do a wonderful job of carrying the luggage around, but no one is trying to figure out how to put wheels on the bag. What’s lacking: a culture of innovation that permeates the environment.
Many times we see “continuous improvement” discussed in the visions or mission statements, but it is at the bottom of the to-do list.
As we proceed through the SRP process, we start challenging people: What recommendation do you have to improve the process?
At first the ideas come slowly, but then the flood gates open and the SRP team experiences the birth of an innovation revolution.
JFK stated the vision, but it took thousands of innovators/stimulated imaginations to accomplish the objective.
Create a Culture of Innovation
Here are some practical steps to create a culture of innovation:
- Senior management must continually communicate its importance
- Fear of failure must be eliminated and collaboration promoted
- New and better ideas must be an important job performance requirement
- Senior-level recognition of those who offer solutions
- Challenge yourself to come up with one new idea a month or quarter
- Challenge those who report to you to create at least one new idea a quarter
- Recognize accomplishments
The concept is simple: Expect innovation at all levels, promote the concept often, and recognize successes.
Push the “on” button and see the light that a culture of innovation produces. Watch the horizons of our industry light up with the accomplishments that are produced by the “forces of innovation.”