Are Differences Really Just Opportunities for Innovation?

business leadership innovationAs I listen to the news and see all the chaos that is born out of all the various beliefs, religions, races, gender, etc., in the world, I have to wonder if this is not somehow tied to that which we prize so much in business – innovation.

I know it may seem like a random connection, but think about it. Every business started because someone had a “different” idea or thought about how something was currently being done. A better way, if you will. Generally, big ideas are thought of as radically different than the current norm or way of doing things and they make people stop and take notice. Bill Gates and Paul Allen thought every home should have a computer, and at the time, most computers took up an entire room and there was not an operating system practical enough so it was indeed radical and dismissed as hubris. You know what happened. They thought differently and a solution was provided, innovation happened. The world was changed.

So why do we hold on to old beliefs that no longer serve us? Old tired ideas that have no place in a globalized world economy? We’re scared. We are afraid that if we think differently or “declare” that there is a better way to do things, we might be wrong or cast out or in some way “shunned” from the crowd. This is no small issue as we human beings are hardwired for belonging so the fear of being “kicked out of the club” is substantial, deep and difficult.

However, what if we paused and took the time to “think different” as the Apple slogan of the late 90s encouraged us to do? What if we viewed all of our social problems as business opportunities? As ways of creating innovative solutions to very complex problems? Innovations happen when something is not working well, or someone has a radical way of looking at something to produce a different outcome. We’ve been looking at the same social ills and telling ourselves that they are intractable, etc. for such a long time. What if they aren’t? What if solutions could be provided that would jolt the thinking or public consciousness into accepting innovation?

What comes to mind for me is John Lennon’s lyrics to “Imagine” – “…imagine all the people, sharing all the world…” What innovation would it take to move us to that place? One woman refusing to give up her seat on the bus? One person refusing to buy into the stereotypes or “castes” that we have been assigned? What if we approached social issues like the best business minds of the day would? If we want it, how do we get there? What’s the gap between here and there? All it takes is the first step and that step starts a movement and that movement creates innovation. Before long, differences will be celebrated as innovative opportunities and nothing more. I can imagine, can’t I? Can you?