Innovation innovation innovation. Our world drips with innovation. Some of it is BIG innovation – Siri, SpaceX Dragon, Brain-Controlled Robotics, Spanx for Men. But while we hear less about it, most of it is LITTLE innovation. Incremental advancement. In fact, what makes many organizations (and the people behind them) so damn successful is their relentless commitment to progress for the sake of progress, not for the sake of perfection. Doing this well requires the unyielding resistance to that shiny object. It means not chasing the next big thing, but rather noodling at the next little thing. It means getting comfortable with – no, excited by – baby steps. You don’t have to come up with the biggest thing since Google to innovate.
I’m the first to admit that BIG innovation excites me. I like shiny objects as much as the next guy. But I’m even more intrigued by people who have found a way to take the seemingly un-innovatable and turn it on its head (and have the courage to do so). If you’ve never had the chance to read Blue Ocean Strategy, pick it up. It essentially maps out a game-changing business strategy rooted in tweaking a product or service just enough that it renders the competition irrelevant. It’s not about reinvention; it’s about incremental innovation. Dyson did it with the vacuum cleaner – something that took its modern form back when Hoover patented their first model in 1908. The technology remained relatively untouched until Dyson came along and tweaked it ever so slightly almost 90 years later. But he tweaked it enough to start a feeding frenzy. And then suddenly his competition was scrambling to catch up.
This is the kind of innovation we should be looking for in HR. Our future does not depend on our ability to come up with the next big thing. It depends on our ability to make the next little thing better: That much better that it starts to move the needle; that much better that people start to notice it; that much better that maybe it only helps one or two people..at first. If there is any cog in the wheel of business that should be all about incremental innovation, HR – in my humble opinion – is it.
I grew up with a guy named Jason Levine, a.k.a Fluency MC, back in The Lou. We went to school together through Junior High, lived a couple of houses down from each other. We hung in the school’s jazz band, and spent quite a bit of time lounging around listening to King Crimson on vinyl. I’ve really enjoyed watching Jason get all Blue Ocean with something that’s been around since the good King gave it to us – teaching people to speak English as a Second Language (ESL). You don’t have to be a linguist to recognize English as one of the toughest to learn – the rules are pretty much made to be broken. And the conventional classroom setting isn’t always the best at getting a student to grasp our crazy nuances. Jason recognized this, became an expert in field, put science, sound teaching principles, and a whole lot of talent and creativity together toward an innovative approach to making stuff stick. It’s catching on and it’s very cool (he just got back from a tour in Tunisia). His work has reminded me to think about the place for innovation in mine. So I would encourage you to watch the following video, follow him. And then innovate…slowly.