SMBs, Innovation and the Problem with Passion

by Megan Totka

SMBs, Innovation and the Problem with PassionLet’s pose a question; can you force innovation or is it purely accidental?

Such a question represents a potential slippery slope for entrepreneurs and dreamers alike. Consider how some of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine and technology, such as penicillin and x-rays, were discovered by accident.

When we dwell too much on such stories, we begin to believe that perhaps hard work doesn’t really pay off. If others are stumbling onto their success, what’s the point of our blood, sweat and tears? This mentality is incredibly dangerous to the productivity of today’s movers and shakers, but seems to be more and more prevalent in today’s fragile economy where the struggle never seems to stop.

On the flip side, trying to “force” innovation may be an equally futile exercise. Like trying to stick a square peg in a round hole, innovation cannot be forced. Innovation is not something “easy,” manageable or even necessarily tangible. Ultimately, innovation comes from within and is sparked by those who have the passion to make it happen.

Let’s talk about “passion.”

Not “passion” as a buzzword. Not as a motivational bumper sticker or some sort of catch phrase that signifies our “success.” Real passion. Unmistakable, genuine enthusiasm and drive. It’s the thread that links all innovators together.

The Problem with Passion

Yet every business owner and entrepreneur claims to be passionate. And why wouldn’t they? We want to be associated with the Steve Jobs’ and Elon Musks of the world, the inventors and tinkerers who dedicate their lives to making something truly great. Regardless, successful businesses and innovations are about much more than “great” ideas. In the end, they’re about passion.

But where does that passion come from? How can we spark it from within ourselves? What constitutes, for example, a passionate business owner? In short, it comes down to diligence, experience and understanding.

It could be said that passion or lack thereof represents a natural selection process for today’s innovators. So where do you begin when it comes to planting passion within your organization?

Persistence and Vision

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

Innovation and passion begin with a vision. Whether we imagine ourselves building our empire from scratch or perhaps creating something much smaller, we have an endgame in mind and know where we want to go. While actually getting there may be another story entirely, we know we have to work. And work hard.

Famously, Thomas Edison tried thousands of different filaments before finally inventing the lightbulb in 1879. While we’d love to be one of those who just happen upon greatness, very few will ever be so lucky. History tells us that we will make mistakes, yet it’s our responsibility to learn from them in pursuit of our vision. Failure often seems like the name of the game when it comes to innovation; however, our efforts are never futile when we legitimately grow and learn from our mistakes. Perhaps Edison said it best:

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The Experience Factor

Innovators and business owners come in every shape, size and background. From the poor and undereducated to the wealthy and elite, innovation has the potential to come from just about anyone with the so-called “right stuff.” Unfortunately, we don’t all have the luxury of being prodigies when it comes to our businesses; therefore, we rely on our experience to make decisions in pursuit of something bigger and better.

Passion comes into play when we see what we’ve done, where we’ve been and how we synthesize that knowledge into a successful business. We’ve stated before that small businesses innovate by asking questions. Through our firsthand experiences and outside observations, we can better determine what needs to be done within our industries to find success. By putting ourselves out in the open, we gain an understanding of what works and what doesn’t, only creating more opportunities to innovate for ourselves, our workers and clients.

In short, make the most of your experience and what that experience means in shaping you as a business owner and innovator.

Understanding “Success”

Success in today’s economy often seems abstract. While it takes plenty of determination, knowledge and grit to become successful, it also takes quite a bit to understand what makes us successful. Steve Jobs represents a prime example of someone who was able to understand success based on his experience after his removal from Apple during the 1980s. Shortly after Jobs’ return in 1996, Apple went from a flailing company to a profitable, global phenomenon. It could be said that Jobs understood the concept of success at its core. Not surprisingly, Jobs was often noted during his lifetime for his passion.

True innovators don’t stop once they’ve gotten ahead. They continue to work, learn and understand where they’ve been and what the future holds. When innovators have room to breathe and be driven by their passion, the sky’s the limit.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, planting passion within your organization creates opportunities for innovation. There are so many variables when it comes to a small business’ success; however, passion remains the driving force that links innovators together. Where does your passion come from?

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  1. Dear Megan:

    Nice post. There are some problems, however, like your statement that innovation can’t be forced. Really? There is a famous quote that you may not be familiar with – “Necessity is the Mother of invention”. That has been proven to be true since time immemorial. In fact, I’ve experienced it myself, on occasion, but I’d like to point out a bigger issue with your article, in particular. Thomas Edison.

    Edison is not a good example for a person trying to be innovative, or at least trying to be be good at it. Yes, absolutely Edison had passion and drive and a lot of very good ideas. But let’s look at his own quote:

    “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

    I’ll tell you right now, that’s not what genius is. That’s the behavior of an idea man and Edison was certainly that. A genius gets the idea, figures out how to make it real and then gets it done. Period. Look at the history of Edison and you’ll run across a man named Nikola Tesla. He was a real genius and Edison hated him. The reason can be found in the next Edison quote you used:

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

    That’s sounds rather defensive, doesn’t it? With good reason, it is. Tesla generally did not run through dozens of ways to make an idea work before he could figure it out. He just nailed it. He had the vision to see the solutions to things that would escape Edison and old Thomas hated him for it. Big time. He tried to stop Tesla’s idea for AC power, even though he knew that his own DC power was limited.

    Another thing about that quote is that many times business people don’t have the time to waste finding out 10,000 ways that an idea won’t work. How productive is that? That’s one of the reasons that people are afraid to innovate – ‘what if this doesn’t work’? How much time and money can be wasted in the meantime?

    We shouldn’t be like Edison. We should learn to become like Tesla, at least as far as innovation goes.

    Frankly, Telsa was quite lacking in the area of business acumen, but the man was innovative as hell.

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