If the problems with Innovation and Strategy are that we can never be certain as to how they will turn out, Creativity, the mortar that holds the other two together, suffers this fate in an even larger measure.
Let's see how many I's I can put in a paragraph: I am told I am a very creative person; I don't know--I have always thought the way I think and don't know any other way to do so. What I do know is this--many ideas I have had, which in my fantasy mind were roaring successes--turned out to be complete duds in reality. If you think I am a creative person, what you have missed is the endless train of 40-yard trash containers full of my failures. As my best friend says, "Listen to Thompson's ideas--one in a hundred are worth pursuing."
This I have observed for certain--what is considered creative, what is considered fashionable, lasts only for a season. Since the time I was in kindergarten, when I had a "Daniel Boone Coonskin Hat" and I remember my older brother sitting in the back seat of the car with me admonishing my dad to "peel out" (the cool phrase of the day), sayings, ideas, and common knowledge have come and gone. Look at music--what was hot last year is barely remembered this year. The same is true in nearly every field.
This phenomenon happens in industry and commerce regularly. When my dad was a model maker at Kenner Toys in Cincinnati, they were always looking for the "hits." We do the same today. At the same time he was searching for hits, we in the engineering department of that little old soap company in the same city were enamored with the idea of "metrication"--converting from English units to metric units--a process that still isn't complete over forty years later. We wasted millions on that.
On one hand, my observation is that people want everything to be the same. Look how resistant they are to organizational structural changes, the idea of moving across the country (an idea that used to be much more readily accepted than it is today), or any changes in their daily routine. On the other hand, put a brand-new idea or device in their hands (Remember the Blackberry? The introduction of the iPhone?) and they readily accept it--as long as they did not incur the risk of developing it.
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I have said all the above to say this: what concerns me today is that individuals, institutions, companies and governments are adapting some ideas with the implied understandings that they will (a) succeed and (b) last forever. I think this is dangerous thinking, at least if you are making investments in these ideas. I speak of fashionable ideas and concepts such as Climate Change, Sustainable, Compostable, Circular Economy and on and on. I suggest one or two of them may have only the duration of a Barry Manilow album (although, if pressed, I could not pick out which ones). Why can I say this? In the history of humankind, there are very few ideas that have withstood the test of time. After all, at one time the learned people of the world insisted all the universe revolved around the Earth--they even made Galileo eat takeout for a while when he questioned this.
I'll further submit that future generations will demand that most of the ideas l have listed, and more left unlisted, must be declared obsolete and old fashioned. Why? The scientists and philosophers of the next and succeeding generations must have something new to chew on. Even universities insist on this--Ph.D. dissertations must be original work. Thus, it is imperative--these scholars will not be content to chew on the old ideas of this generation any more than this generation was willing to accept the advice in the 1967 movie, "The Graduate" that the future is in plastics. What is hot for us today will be boring in ten or fifteen years, if not sooner.
So, be careful as you consider innovation and strategy in your company. Nothing is forever. Carefully examine with all the resources you can muster the merits of what seem to be today's great creative and fashionable ideas. They just may be the last of the summer wine.
And as a lighthearted final thought, let's look at a puzzling example of the fashionable that I cannot begin to figure out...have you noticed how suddenly in the last few years, everything is being painted gray? Interiors, exteriors and everything in between. They have even repainted the outside of the Atlanta Airport concourses gray--a huge job. How many hotel exteriors have been repainted gray? One of our daughters has painted her condominium's first floor rooms gray. We were at a birthday party a couple of Saturdays ago and the entire interior of the house was gray. Heck, I even own a gray car now (it would take at least three weeks to get the silver one I wanted). Who started this? Was it the book? How will it end? Will it outlast some of the current fashionable ideas I mentioned in the last paragraph? Who knows?
For safety this week, let's try to keep the human hearts in our midst beating as long as we can--that's a worthy longevity goal. Perhaps some health checkups, individually and corporately, are in order at this time of year.
Be safe and we will talk next week.