Innovation has not been an all-time success. We have seen innovation teams come and go, incubators built and dismantled, accelerators accelerating and then fading away. By now, many organizations have introduced design thinking, lean start-up, agile or, scrum. They have created office spaces that have become more of a hip experience than anything else, with high-end coffee machines, bean bags, and “fuck-up nights” (with pizza).
In reality, few organizations are satisfied with their innovation performance.
Let us forget for a moment the failed attempts and the unkept promises. What if we turned our attention to what innovation requires from people?
Innovation, unlike almost any other dimension of business, has the ability to put us into gridlock. As innovators, we need to be able to hold a bold vision and deliver short-term results; to have our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground; to maintain stability and galvanize change; to honor what is working and seek the freedom to create something new; to strive for excellence and be willing to fail; to gain trust and be willing to disappoint.
The challenge is that choosing between these opposing goals is not a problem to be solved – a problem can have a “right,” or at least a “best” answer. Instead, these opposing goals are polarities to be managed. One pole is not better than the other, nor truer or more worthy to be chosen over the other. The poles are interdependent and complementary.
The best metaphor to describe a polarity might be that of our in-breath and out-breath. If you had a choice, would you prefer to only inhale or only exhale? To live, of course, we must do both. Inhaling and exhaling are opposites, but they work together as part of a vital system.
Our ability to navigate these external polarities is very much connected to how we deal with our internal polarities: the ones we hold deep within ourselves. The ones that make us human.