By Maurie Cashman
Becoming a borrower and lender of ideas is the ONLY way innovation ever occurs. Everything that any of us knows we learned from someone else. Be it parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends, teachers or mentors â€“ we borrowed from each in order for us to become who we are today, and we have an obligation to lend those ideas to others. That is how innovation happens â€“ someone borrows an idea and changes it slightly so that it fits their particular need.
I had a wonderful opportunity this week to discuss some issues that a client was having. After listening and asking some questions, it became crystal clear that the challenges they were facing were nearly precisely the same as our company faced years ago. The industries had absolutely nothing to do with one another. However, there was one common link: the value driver of each appears to be making complex, project-oriented work happen on a schedule. We lacked simple measuring systems to monitor projects. We made the mistake of adopting a complex system that someone sold us and ultimately scrapped it for a simple system that we developed in-house when our employees rebelled against the far more complex and expensive system. Hopefully, we will help our client avoid that unpleasant experience!
It is interesting how this can be replicated over and over once you become good at recognizing the issue. There are many applications that once took weeks to measure that can now be done in minutes. My guess is the developers of Lotus and later Excel had no idea the power that they were unleashing. Migrating complex distribution, competitive analysis, project performance and scheduling (to name just a few) can be easily reduced to a â€œdashboardâ€ that allows both managers and workers to know at a glance whether they are on track to meet daily, monthly, annual and long range targets.
Think of the power this innovation provides. We can set a goal for five years from now and the strategies we feel will be needed to hit that goal. We can then monitor those strategies to be sure we are progressing toward that ultimate goal. If the world throws us a curve ball, we are ready to hit it to the opposite field or out of the park by quickly adjusting. A musician improvises his solo to fit the feel of the rest of his band members and the particular audience.
We can do the same in the business world. I am fortunate enough to participate in several groups, both locally and nationally, that meet on a regular basis to discuss problems, ideas and ultimately to learn from one another. We share openly. We borrow and lend without expectations of return. Funny thing though, we each would say we get more than we give.
I wonder what would happen if we shared more. What if Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had gotten along? Think about the innovation that has come from borrowing and adapting ideas developed by NASA. Agriculture has undergone massive growth due to the adoption of genetics, GPS, metallurgy, processing and preservation technologies. Would Pink Floyd exist without Beethoven? Nothing new, just applied differently.