The One Big Thing for Innovation

by Boris Pluskowski

The One Big Thing for InnovationIn my last few days at Imaginatik, a lot of contemplative questions kept getting asked of me by team members and colleagues hoping to glean one last bit of knowledge from me before I left – but probably the best was from a colleague who asked me, if I could only pick one thing that made or broke an innovation program – what would it be. My response – had I been better prepared and more dramatic in nature would’ve been – should’ve been – to just put up one finger and say “This!”.

The reason why that would’ve been perfect comes from a scene in one of my favorite movies, City Slickers, in which a fantastic Jack Palance (as the weathered cowboy, Curly) shares the secret of life with a weary and overwhelmed Billy Crystal (as the city boy, Mitch):

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? (holds up one finger) This!

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick with that and the rest just don’t matter…

Mitch: But what is the one thing?

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

For me, this quote has always inspired a good deal of thought and contemplation – and for a piece of deep thought to be thrown into a comedy like City Slickers, even more so – but when it comes to innovation – it’s also the key to remembering one of the most important things that gets ignored by companies.

I so often have seen programs fail because they didn’t take this into account. I’ve seen innovation initiatives go nowhere because they never thought to ask the big question. And more recently I’ve seen Social Networking and other Collaborative applications achieve nothing because they were too enamored to tick a box and say “yes we can” than spend the time to think about “why they should”.

You see – whilst there are tons of ways in which to make a collaborative application succeed, there’s one sure fire way to make it fail from a corporate perspective, and that’s to ignore (he says, holding up one finger) “This!”.

What is “This” I hear you say? The one thing you stick with that makes it all tick? Purpose.

What humans need in life, strive for in life, require in order to be happy and motivated – is a purpose. It is what gives our lives meaning, makes us feel like we’ve accomplished, and ultimately makes us want to do more. People spend their entire lives looking to find the purpose in their lives – and whilst it is different for everyone – the need for it is just as strong for everyone.

Now I don’t mean to come across all evangelical – and I certainly don’t have the meaning of life all sorted out – but I do know what makes people tick – Purpose. So why is it then that so many companies ignore that when trying to engage their workforce in any kind of initiative. So many companies are rushing out there to tick a box, to implement a tool, to start a new collaborative initiative so as to be able to claim to shareholders, customers, and the outside world as a whole that they’re on top of things – that they don’t stop to think about ensuring that there’s a purpose to it all.

When at Imaginatik, and we developed Idea Central and idea management as a whole – what really set us apart from the old school Knowledge Management practices was that we gave people a purpose to actually participate – a reason to make it worthwhile. Facebook is successful because it fulfills a purpose in people’s lives – to more easily connect with their friends. LinkedIn – to more easily keep in touch with the people with whom we do business and to enable us to leverage that to our benefit in the future – whether that be sales, getting a new job, or even as referrals. Pick any kind of successful social networking tools (and there are, contrary to popular belief – PLENTY of failed and failing ones out there) and you’ll find they all have one thing in common – they’ve given/provided people with a (good) purpose to participate.

Yet I still see companies running innovation programs without a clear set of goals or purpose. I see companies distributing social networking tools, without making it clear why, what for, or how it will benefit the end user. It is of course then, no surprise when I see these programs fail.

It’s not enough to just know the purpose for yourself either – you have to live, breathe, and communicate that purpose with passion in order for it to be felt and responded to by the rest of the community you’re trying to tap into – but when you do – the response and value created can’t be underestimated.

Now if I could only find a way to go back in time and repeat my answer to my colleague with a little more flair, I could have left Imaginatik looking as cool as old Jack himself….

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Boris PluskowskiBoris Pluskowski is the Founder of The Complete Innovator where he regularly shares new ideas and best practices on how big companies can harness Innovation, Collaboration and Social Media to drive new sources of value throughout the enterprise.