Did you notice what just happened? After two tumultuous, tragic years, Covid 19 has finally receded into the background. The crisis is no longer Topic A. Here in California, where I live, the kids are back in school, masks are disappearing in public places; people are getting on with their lives. What a vastly different world we are living in now that everything and nothing has changed.
Can both be true? I believe so. Take a look:
On the "everything has changed" side of the ledger, we've seen how war, Covid 19, and a spate of bad actors can take a toll on our optimism. We've seen assumptions go up in smoke, such as "wars and famines are a thing of the past" and "technology will solve all our problems." We've seen how rapidly a nation can go from peaceful to battered and bloodied. We've seen how fragile our democracy is in the aftermath of January 6th. We've seen the passing of one generation (Boomers) from the workplace, and the rise of Generation X and Millennials into positions of leadership, bringing new values, life experiences and definitions of success along with them.
And on the "nothing has changed" side of the ledger, there's plenty to report on as well. We've seen how important relationships are, how material wealth does not feed the human spirit, and how vulnerable we are to losing our health. On the "nothing has changed" side of the ledger, we've seen how attitude is still everything and that "if it's going to be, it's up to me" will continue to be true. Human agency, or what we used to call "get up and go" matters now more than ever. What Peter Drucker said about making things happen has not changed: "Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission.”
The book that launched me into the field of innovation was a happy accident. Winning the Innovation Game was based on a collection of interviews with such monomaniacs, and it changed my life. People like Dr. Jonas Salk, discoverer of the polio vaccine, and Andrew Grove, one of the founders of Intel, and Marva Collins, who's school on Chicago's South Side taught Shakespeare and the Classics to underprivileged children.
Researching Winning the Innovation Game, I traveled around the United States seeking out and interviewing 43 of the leading innovators of that era (the '80s). An indifferent student in college, conducting these interviews was a transformational experience, I learned so much by sitting in their space, looking at how they perceived their role in life. In the book, I identified the essential mindset of innovators regardless of field of endeavor. It is the innovator's frame of mind that enables us to "find new needs and fill them" and to "turn vision into reality" in the form of new products, services, creative solutions to pressing problems and untapped opportunities.
The Four Modes of Thinking
At the center of every breakthrough is the thinking that spawned it. Every thought you harbor, every idea you come up with, is the result of your mode of thinking. Consider:
Defeatist Mode: your mental state here is dominated by worrying, which is a negative use of the imagination. Your Idea Factory is basically shut down.
Sustainer Mode: In this mental state, you're reacting rather than anticipating. You're maintaining the status quo and taking things one day at a time. Ideas about how you might do things differently, or that presage opportunity are of little interest.
Dreamer Mode: In this mood, you might come up with ideas - lots of them in fact - but your attention span drifts, nothing comes from your ideation sessions. You're exposed to ideas and you're hatching ideas, but you're inclined to come up with reasons for not acting on them, rather than moving them forward.
Innovator Mode: In this mindset, you are alert to ideas and the people who are manifesting them, and you are intensely curious about and determined to turn visions into reality. You are passionate about making dreams into reality. You don't see obstacles, you see opportunities. Setbacks don't get you down because your attitude is to experiment, to "try anything and everything until you achieve your goal."
The innovators in life are much like the rest of us except for one distinguishing characteristic. They know how to switch from unproductive thought processes, and switch on their Innovator Mode. They use it to generate the ideas they need and bring those ideas to life on a consistent basis.
As I look back over 30 years involvement in the innovation field, I feel fortunate to have been part of a global movement. I was part of its spread from pioneering companies like 3M, Whirlpool, EDS, IBM, Citibank, and Proctor & Gamble, to continents and countries such as India, and then to Asian countries like Singapore and South Korea. Soon, we started getting calls to appear in countries throughout Europe and LATAM (Latin America), and to Middle Eastern nations like UAE, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. In each country, forward-thinking NGO's in the non-profit sector also benefited from training in the mindset, skillset and toolset of innovation.
While no movement lasts forever, the need to give attention to how we innovate is more urgent now than ever before. There's little question we're at a pivotal moment in human history, one where the fate of the world depends significantly on the choices we make in the next 5 to 10 years, and the innovation that needs to take place to mitigate climate change, and to adapt to it's coming wrath. Clearly we cannot solve the pressing problems that we face without great attention to the process by which we innovate.