A battle cry of innovation

I’ve found my battle cry for 2013: a quote from Georgia O’Keefe (who died at 98 in 1986) that’s tailor-made for a world where best laid plans collide with black swans:

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica: Vol 17 (1943), photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918 © www.arttoday.com

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica: Vol 17 (1943), photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918 © http://www.arttoday.com

The quote suggests that O’Keefe rarely operated in her comfort zone.  I looked through a big book of her paintings I bought when I was in college.  Each picture is distinctly O’Keefe’s:  giant flowers, towering landscapes, skyscrapers.  But she somehow struggled to stay raw and alert, testing her premise and refining her distinctive style.  She figured out how to get better and better.

It’s really hard not to want to be comfortable, to respond in the same way, go to the same restaurants  see the same people, walk the dog on the same safe street.  But even if that were possible, it’s not the way I want my obituary written.  So I’m trying to make experimentation a habit. The bugaboo is that it it’s neither quick nor easy.  I have to let myself block out the time, fail and get better.

At the organizational level, this process is called innovation.  Companies and institutions pursue research and development in-house, by participating in incubators (a future post on this intriguing area), through partnerships, strategic alliances and spin offs   None of these routes is fool-proof, far from it. Sometimes they work; other times they don’t. It’s all about changing for the better.  I mean, who would have thought the local toll road would be doing radio spots, the post office would  partner with the grocery store and PayPal, and tiny cars could be rented on the street?

Scary stuff, but oh so necessary.

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