Having come back to "boleh"-land after a long hiatus overseas, I’ve not had the pleasure of enjoying certain experiences in a long time, and one of them is to be stopped by an unscrupulous traffic cop in this country. But that changed recently. After the usual formalities of telling me my grievances towards the law and asking me for my driving license, the cop proceeded to utter the following words - “want to settle or not?” This basically translates to “do you want to give me a bribe or do you want me to give you a traffic ticket?” Anyway that got me thinking about that phrase with respect to the topic of innovation in general and three thoughts came to mind:
1) Firstly, should SMEs in this country innovate or not? After all it seems that for the time being, businesses here in Malaysia can just kind of follow the trends set by developed countries or just adopt them wholesale and still be successful. What do I think about this? I think a quote by Niccolo Machiavelli shared with me by my business partner puts it best - "Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times." So the question that should be asked is “Should SMEs settle or not settle for the status quo?”
2) Secondly, is there a need for an appropriate innovation champion for a project or program? Let me begin by saying that having an innovation champion is definitely wise when starting a project or program that is innovative in nature. I say this because when one embarks on a project or program that is even slightly radical, there will be a lot of people in a corporation that will act like corporate antibodies and try to kill off the project or program. That is why there is a need for an innovation champion to push ahead and fight these battles. It is important also to identify the most appropriate innovation champion. I think Steve Jobs captures the spirit of an innovation champion well when he said the following upon reflecting on his current success:
“I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
So qualifications and skills aside, what is more important for an innovation champion is to have passion, commitment and the resourcefulness to make the program successful. This is because any project/program that is radically innovative will have its ups and downs and will encounter a lot of internal resistance. Therefore, the question that should be asked is “Should a project/program settle for an inappropriate innovation champion or not settle and keep on searching until they find an appropriate innovation champion?”
3) Finally, how big should an innovation team be before they embark on an innovative project or program? Well I say form the smallest team possible and no smaller, but probably anthropologist Margaret Mead puts it best “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world: Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” The question that should be asked then is: “To settle on the mindset that only huge teams can embark on innovative projects or not settle for this kind of mindset and go off doing something incredible with a small, passionate and dedicated team?”
Have I put forth ideas that are not practical and reasonable? Well here is what George Bernard Shaw has to say about being reasonable -- “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.” So the phrase “want to settle or not?” is a phrase very relevant when thinking about innovation. Oh and by the way I didn’t settle with the cop and in fact the cop let me go without a traffic ticket – must have been my lucky day.