Why the Best Innovators Are Unreasonable

New Idea

The World’s Most Creative

  • What does it take to make it into the history books as one of the world’s greatest innovators?
  • Do creative geniuses have any unique characteristics?

Rowan Gibson, one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on business innovation, previously shared some of his thinking about his new book, The 4 Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking.  Part of what makes his research unique is that he studied innovators throughout history to understand their thinking, their characteristics, and their methodology.  What he shared with me about history’s greatest innovators may influence the way you manage, the way you look at your boss, or the way you look at others we label as stubborn.  Because, as we will see, the best innovators are often the most unreasonable people.

 

Why the Best Innovators Are Unreasonable

Rowan, throughout your new book, you give examples ranging from da Vinci to Richard Branson. By studying these innovators, you developed a unique perspective. What does one need to possess or do to get mentioned in the history books?

I think those that make it into the history books are to some extent unreasonable people. George Bernard Shaw put it best when he argued that, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Innovators like the ones I just mentioned – Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk –these are not reasonable people. They don’t just accept that the world is the way it is. They have this deep, insatiable urge to improve it or radically change it to fit their own vision of how things should be.

 

“You can’t harvest big ideas unless you sow the right seeds.” -Rowan Gibson

 

Unreasonable Innovator: Leonardo da Vinci

Take da Vinci. Was he a reasonable person? Here’s a man who filled 13,000 pages of notebooks with scribbles, drawings, scientific diagrams, and designs—everything from human anatomy and facial expressions to animals, birds, plants, rocks, water, chemistry, optics, painting, astronomy, architecture, and engineering. He once coated the wings of a fly with honey just to see if it would change the sound of the fly’s buzzing noise in flight. Why would anyone do that? Da Vinci did it to establish that the pitch of a musical note is connected with the speed of the percussive movement of the air. In this case the fly’s wings became heavier due to the honey, so they couldn’t beat as fast, resulting in a lower-pitched buzzing sound–which of course might be interesting at some level, but reasonable people don’t do things like that.

 

Unreasonable Innovator: Richard Branson

Let’s say you opened a little record store in London, UK. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. But would you call it “Virgin”? And would you then create your own record label and start backing unknown musicians like Mike Oldfield or controversial bands like the Sex Pistols? Would you try to grow your one little record store into a national chain of media hypermarkets? I mean, if you did all of that, it would be quite remarkable. But would you then decide to start your own transatlantic airline and go up against British Airways on their own turf? Would you try to build your own mobile phone business from scratch and then your own bank or take a big risk by investing in a space tourism company? These are not reasonable things to do. So clearly Richard Branson is not a reasonable man.

 

Unreasonable Innovator: Elon Musk

Power Your Creative Thinking With the 4 Lenses of Innovation

Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission

Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission

  • Do you want to create a culture of innovation in your business?
  • Do you want to tap into your inner creative voice?
  • Do you want to power your creative thinking?

Power Your Creative Thinking

I love reading about the world’s greatest innovators. Whether it’s an innovative individual or a company, I am fascinated with the stories behind history’s greatest breakthroughs and inventions. Recently, a terrific new book on the subject crossed my desk and captured my attention. After reading it, I had the opportunity to converse with the author. The insights in this book can help any company improve its innovative culture and any individual become more creative.

That author, speaker, and consultant is Rowan Gibson. Rowan is one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on business innovation. He is the internationally bestselling author of three books on business strategy and innovation – Rethinking The Future, Innovation to the Core, and his latest, The 4 Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking.

 

4 LENSES OF INNOVATION

Challenging Orthodoxies

You share four lenses or perspectives on innovation. The first is challenging orthodoxies. There are many examples of people who stand up and say there is a better way. Perhaps that child with a rebellious streak may have a great future?

Almost by definition, innovators tend to be contrarians and nonconformists. As Steve Jobs put it, they “think different.”

 

“Almost by definition, innovators tend to be contrarians and nonconformists.” –Rowan Gibson

 

I just saw the movie “The Imitation Game” about the work of Alan Turing during the Second World War. This guy was obviously a genius, and a pioneer in the field of digital computing. He almost single-handedly built a machine that broke the German Enigma code, which undoubtedly helped the allies win the war. But Turing had no regard for prevailing wisdom, or for military authority, or for anyone else’s way of doing things. He believed only in his own revolutionary ideas.

Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission

So, yes, maybe that rebellious school child has a great future. Turing’s headmaster told his parents he was wasting his time at school because he wasn’t willing to be educated in classical thinking. Einstein was so rebellious he was actually expelled from school. But it was that rebelliousness toward authority that led him to question Newton’s seemingly unassailable laws of motion. Richard Branson was another rebel at school and eventually dropped out at age 16—going on to create Virgin Records.

If you recall some of the other famous individuals who were featured in Apple’s “Think Different” ads, such as Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Thomas Edison, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Martha Graham, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Pablo Picasso, they were all misfits and rebels. The saw things differently from others. They wanted to challenge and change the status quo.

There are just so many examples of companies that have innovated very successfully by challenging deep-seated orthodoxies: Swatch in the watch industry Dell in the computer industry, Southwest in the airline industry, IKEA in the furniture industry, Enterprise in the car rental business, Zara in the fashion industry, Chipotle in fast food, IT’SUGAR in candy retail, and the list goes on.

A recent example is Beats by Dre. They asked themselves why every other field of consumer electronics—TVs, laptops, smartphones—was being dramatically improved, while people were still listening to music with cheap, low-performance earbuds. What if there was a market for premium headphones, costing hundreds of dollars, that would reproduce music the way artists wanted their songs to be heard? And what if those headphones could be marketed as a fashion statement, not just as an audio accessory? Luke Wood, CEO of Beats by Dre, told the press, “People thought we were crazy. They said the marketplace would never support a $300 headphone.” Well, once again, here’s to the crazy ones. Today, premium headphones are one of the fastest-growing categories in the consumer electronics industry, making up over 40 percent of all headphone sales, and Beats owns over 60 percent of that market. Last year, Apple acquired Beats Electronics for $3 billion.

Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission

 

2. Harnessing Trends

The second lens or perspective is harnessing trends. How do you spot the trend in time to ride a new wave?

Well, you have to be very sensitive to what is changing in the world. It’s not about having a crystal ball and trying to predict the future. It’s more about having a wide-angled lens that allows you pick up important trends and then exploit them in some way.

15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

Perspective Arrows Leadership Concept

Conscious Leadership

Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman and Kaley Warner Klemp have just released The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.  It’s a practical leadership guide designed to help leaders become more conscious, take personal responsibility, and lead others in a win-win model.

If you need to pause, reflect more, and change your leadership style or behavior, this book will jumpstart your thinking.

 

Are You Above or Below the Line?

Personal responsibility and personal accountability are vitally important to success in any endeavor. You start the book with a simple but powerful model: Above the Line / Below the Line. Would you share that model with us?

The model is a simple black line.  At any moment a leader is either above the line or below the line.   When we are above the line, we are open, curious and committed to learning. When we’re below the line, we’re closed, defensive and committed to being right. What we suggest is that the first fundamental building block of conscious leadership is the ability to accurately locate yourself at any moment, asking, “Am I above or below the line?”

This sounds rather simple, but it actually requires a high degree of self-awareness.  Many leaders spend most of their time below the line.  In fact, it is the normal state.  Asking them if they’re below the line would be like asking a fish if it’s wet.  When leaders begin the journey to conscious leadership, they develop a greater and greater capacity to locate themselves accurately in any given moment.

 

“You are essentially who you create yourself to be and all that occurs in your life is the result of your own making.” -Stephen Richards

 

Many leaders spend most of their time below the line because we go there when we are threatened or when we are in a fight or flight reactivity and the goal is survival.  Our brains are hardwired to do this.  This is normal.  It is human.  The issue is that this reactive pattern occurs whether the threat is real or perceived, and when the perceived threat is to the survival of the ego, we go below the line to protect it.  Many ego-driven leaders experience a fairly constant threat to their ego.  Thus they live and lead from below the line.

When leaders are below the line, they are in a low-learning state and create cultures of fear and threat. This results in lower creativity, innovation, collaboration and connection. When they’re above the line, they are in a state of trust, and the result is a higher level of effectiveness.

So the first key of conscious leaders is to accurately locate themselves either above or below the line. If they’re below the line, the second key to conscious leadership is to shift back above the line. Leaders master reliable shift moves that take them back above the line.

 

“The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things we fear.” -Brian Tracy

 

The Dangers of Right

I have also written about the dangers of always being “right.” Why do so many of us have a strong desire to be right at all costs?

The reason we are so committed to being right at all costs and to proving that we are right is that the ego doesn’t believe it can survive unless it is right. Being wrong is ego death. Being right, and more importantly being seen as being right, becomes our highest goal.

What we see is that conscious leaders become more interested in learning than in proving to everyone, including themselves, that they are right. The more secure leaders are, the less they need to spend time explaining, justifying, defending and proving their rightness and the more time they spend learning through deep listening, curiosity and wonder. As leaders learn to lead more from curiosity and wonder, they discover that breakthrough ideas come their way regularly. Also, the more leaders get deeply interested in learning over being right, the more their teams and organizations do the same.

 

“Conscious leaders are more interested in learning than proving they are right.”

 

The Drama Triangle

Would you share the “victim-villain-hero” triangle?

When we’re below the line, we’re in drama.  All drama is driven by three roles: the victim, villain and hero.

VICTIM

When I’m a victim, I’m living as though I’m “the effect of” people, circumstances and conditions.  I locate the cause of my experience as something or someone outside of me. I’m upset because a supplier didn’t deliver or the markets are down or there is bad traffic. It could also be that I’m happy, but the cause of my happiness is the circumstances outside of me. Victims never take full responsibility for their lives.

VILLAIN

Villains blame. They blame others, the collective and themselves. They move through life finding fault.  Villains believe something is wrong and their goal is to figure out who caused it.

Leadership Lessons from Over 200 Thought Leaders

ON AIR

Voices of Influence

A few years ago, I launched this blog with the idea of sharing insights, ideas, and inspiration.  It is my hope that the lessons and ideas shared here help you in some way whether that is fast-tracking your career or overcoming procrastination.

When I started, I thought it was worth it if I made a real difference to just one person.

I’m happy to report that at least one person has found it life-changing.  That person is me.  I learn far more by sharing these ideas than you can imagine.  What an incredible experience to have the opportunity to learn from so many people.

Thank you for reading, for commenting, and for sharing these posts.  I appreciate all of you and look forward to getting to know you better in the coming months.

Below are some of the leadership interviews and posts with thought leaders from a variety of fields on numerous topics.  I hope you find one you missed and that it positively influences your year ahead.

 

“The book you don’t read won’t help.” –Jim Rohn

 

 

Leadership, Management & Execution

 

“You will be the same person in 5 years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” -Charlie Jones

 

Leadership Communication

How to Create an Extraordinary Workplace

Magnet attracting chrome ball bearing concept for marketing, bus

The Best Place to Work

How do you create an extraordinary workplace?

How do you turn a group of strangers into a community of friends?

Why should a company pay people to play?

 

Usually, when I read advance copies of book manuscripts, I wait to talk about the book until it is released.  In this case, I couldn’t help but talk about this book for the last few months at conferences. Now that it is finally available, I am excited to introduce Ron Friedman’s new book The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace.

 

BOOK GIVEAWAY

For your chance to receive a free copy of Dr. Friedman’s new book, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, do any of the following:

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If you want to build a winning culture and encourage collaboration, this book provides a blueprint.  If you are designing a new office space or updating an old one, this book is a must read.  But what surprised me most about this book is the many insights it provides for leaders at all levels.  If you want to be promoted at work, you will want to read this book and follow its guidelines.  And, as a CEO who is privileged enough to lead an organization that regularly hits the Best Places to Work in IT list, I can tell you this book gave me numerous ideas.

The book’s author, Ron Friedman, PhD, recently answered my questions about his research and work. He is a psychologist and the founder of Ignite80, a management consultancy to help leaders build extraordinary workplaces.

 

Research: You can predict employee satisfaction by the amount of sunlight entering their floor.

 

3 Ways to Improve Space

From a workplace design perspective, what are the top 3 ways to improve space for a positive impact?

BPTW Cover 1The most important principle is design with the end in mind. Think carefully about the tasks your employees are going to be doing and provide a space that empowers them to do their work more effectively. At many companies, people are placed in the identical work environments regardless of their job function, and this is a missed opportunity. It’s why so many people feel that they need to come in early or stay late to get any work done.

A second consideration is encouraging people to personalize their workspace. In The Best Place to Work I talk about organizations like Etsy and DreamWorks that provide their employees with a budget for customizing their workspace when they first join.  It’s a wise strategy.  When we have the freedom to shape our environment, we experience a sense of personal control.  One study found that people are over 30% more effective when they’re encouraged to personalize their workspace.

 

Research: People are over 30% more productive when they personalize their workspace.

 

A third recommendation is to invest in informal social spaces, like outdoor picnic tables or a café-like break room. The idea is to encourage colleagues to get together, even when they’re not talking about work. Workplace friendships are vital to our performance, and lasting friendships aren’t established when we’re in formal meetings.

 

Paid to Play?

One of your chapters says that we should be paid to play. You say that the childlike manner of play can improve our creativity. How can we use play and exercise to improve our workplace?

There’s a business case for giving employees the flexibility they need to exercise. Over the last decade, scientists have uncovered a range of benefits from regular workouts that extend far beyond being healthy or looking good. Exercise, research tells us, can also make us more effective at work.