Recently I came across this excerpt from a famous speech by Theodore Roosevelt. It reminded me of several coaching conversations that I have had in the past two years.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Citation from Theodore Roosevelt's "Sorbonne Speech",
It reminded me of how many innovation efforts in organizations fail, because employees are made to feel inadequate or ashamed that their initiative or seemingly studpid idea is not what their management is expecting and therefore choose the road well traveled, keeping their organizations on the well-trodden path of conventional ideas.
... and while in terms of technical innovation, this might not always be the case, it is certainly the case with cultural innovation in many organizations. Changing "the way things are done around here" and "how we have done them for many years" seems like an insurmountable task in some organizations. Clients tell me about how their ideas or how their teams' ideas are sacrificed or shut down, because they do not comply with the current prevailing logic of the organization.
But remember, it is not the critic who counts....
Real creativity and real innovation can only thrive in places where failure and seemingly absurd ideas are genuinely seen as a potential source of competitive advantage. In a recent interview Google's Head of Innovation and Creativity programs, Frederick G. Pferdt, stated that Google sees creating trust and the space to fail and learn as one of their key success factors.
So let's start today to create workplaces of encouragement that allow everyone to have the confidence to step into the arena and present an "off the wall" idea. It might just be a source of your competitive advantage in the future. Reserving judgement for a little longer could be a first step...
So next time, someone presents a seemingly odd idea to you, maybe take a little time to resist the urge of immediately dismissing the idea and mindfully review the potential impact of the idea. The person that presented the idea to you deserves credit for having the courage to step into the arena! And you will deserve credit for honoring that moment of potential innovation.