Does Innovation Require Courage?

Courage is an interesting word. It inspires a sense of awe and mysticism, as if, somehow, someone who shows courage has special powers the rest of us are lacking. I disagree.


courage.jpgRenowned author Dr. Robert Anthony stated, “Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and to act anyway.”

And Muhammed Ali of boxing fame said, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in Life.”

The reason I’ve been pondering this notion of courage is I recently attended an excellent presentation by Andrew Miller, who suggested organizations could better serve their constituents if they became more innovative in their thinking. The audience, approximately 40 C-level folks, seemed pretty energized by that idea and spent the final 30 minutes of the session in breakout groups to discuss how they could introduce innovation into their respective cultures.

I was surprised and disappointed that not one senior-level executive felt innovation was an option for their organization. While they embraced the concept of innovation, each had a reason why innovation would never work in their environment.  For instance, I heard:

“Our bylaws don’t allow for innovation.’” Really? I’ve never seen a set of bylaws stating “thou shalt not innovate.”

Or “My board would never go for out-of-the-box thinking.” Hmmm, how many times has your board been presented with an original and supportable business case and said no? If they said no, did you let one “no” stop you?

Or “My members would never support that.”  How do you know, did you float the idea for them to consider?

Those sound like rationalizations from a group of leaders who are unwilling or unaccustomed to taking risks.

Innovation is synonymous with risk-taking, and organizations that create original products or services take on a risk to better serve their members. Perhaps some outcomes of innovative thinking are higher member retention, increased member engagement, or expanding your membership base. You don’t have to produce an earth-shattering new product or service, rather introduce a simple ideal or improvement and implement it on a small scale. This limits your risks and provides opportunities to refine your ideas. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…or in this case a simple idea or concept. To succeed, you only need desire, commitment, the courage to take a risk, and the fortitude see it through.

A piece of art I have hanging in my house says it best: The Universe rewards those who take risks on its behalf.

Ask yourself what you can do to make a difference. No one is likely to die if you fail, and it is equally unlikely that you’ll lose your job. If you fail, so what? If you learn from your failure, then was it a failure? What if your risk-taking yielded a positive return?

Gosh, you might be accused of being an innovator.

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