Friday, October 28, 2011

Embrace the Ordinary

There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary... Foo Fighters, My Hero


We put too much mystery in the word "innovation."

We ascribe profound moments of change to the "eureka" myth and assume we just don't have much to offer.  We imagine brainstorming sessions must be fast-paced, high energy idea-fests with lots of loud talking and waving arms over heads with the requisite magical results.  We are pretty sure if there isn't pizza involved the results won't be "authentic."

The fact is, innovation isn't a project or an event, it's a lifestyle.  It's just curiosity that is harnessed and applied.  It's what we humans naturally specialize in.  At some point in our evolutionary past, the first humanoid thought, "I wonder what's behind that rock?" and then walked over to find out.  We've been at it ever since with insanely awesome results. What's on that moon up there?  I don't know, let's go see.

Sometimes, the best brainstorming happens when you aren't looking for it and you least expect it.  Here's a simple example.  Recently, on an ordinary day replete with the usual domestic issues, phone calls, client emails, etc., I just happened to meet up with one of my absolute favorite colleagues to pick up something she is letting me borrow for a project I'm working on.

We sat down.  We got caught up on the life dramas underway.  Commiserated a little on registration trends and  other event related stuff because we are meetings geeks and like to talk shop.  And then came the statement - "You know, we don't want to do this element anymore at this conference but we don't know what to do instead."  And the ad-hoc brainstorming session was on.

We didn't plan for it.  We didn't carve any special time out of our day to do it.  I'm not even part of their staff or their leadership.  We simply invoked the process that over time has come to us as naturally as any other interaction in our daily lives.  We sat with the question for a minute.  Then we starting asking questions of our own.  Why do we even do this anyway?  What purpose does it serve?  What do we lose if we.....?  What if we...?  Nah.  How about...?  Hmmm. I'm not sure.  Can we combine...?  Silence.  Thinking.  How about a game instead...? What kind of game?  Well....I don't actually know....oh never mind.....You know, I've heard x,y,a tried this or that...Hmmm.....Silence.  We aren't talking 8,000 miles per minute.  We aren't in an inspired, ecstatic state of mind.  We're just grinding it out.  My colleague is free to reject my ideas, I'm free to reject hers.  It's not personal, it's a process.  We trust each other and we know we will know it when we see it.

And then we do.

We land on a potential solution that we think has merit.  In fact, we are kind of excited about it.  It's got a coolness factor to it.  It has elements we've borrowed from others, and we've added our own twist.  We congratulate ourselves and move on with our day.  I grab my stuff and wander out to the car, she sends some emails out to get others input on the concept.

We are just ordinary people. On an ordinary day. Doing ordinary things. Creating extra-ordinary results with just three tools - willingness to change, asking a ton of questions and trusting each other with the process.

Be a hero.  Be ordinary.


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