Breakaway! - Spring2 Innovation


January 23, 2012

At work, there was a time that I wanted to fit in and do what everyone else thought was the right things to do.  Usually my gut instinct was right and I didn’t say anything. Then I felt bad because I didn’t express my concerns verbally to the rest of the team. Slowly I began voicing my concerns and got better and better at being more vocal.  Not that I am right all the time but I express what is on my mind.

Because an authority figure or an SME (Subject Matter Expert) says this is what we need to do / this is what we are doing, it doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. It doesn’t mean you need to stay silent either.  If something has been done a certain way for a long time it doesn’t mean it should continue to be done that way.  If there is something better or it is found that it violates your or your company’s principles/codes (ethical or moral) than you need to stand up and vocalize this.  It takes one person to stand up and change the direction. Chances are there are others on the team not vocalizing their thoughts. This is a common trap that many people and companies fall into: following Social Norms,  following the herd, and trying too hard to fit in and not rock the boat.

I am a fan of a Canadian bookstore chain and I recently tried to enter one of their online contests. I had to fill in a skill testing question at the end.  When I got to the question I had to think for a minute. Divide and multiply before Subtraction and addition? So I went and did the quick mathaccording to the BEDMAS rule (BEDMAS == brackets, exponents, division, multiplication, addition and subtraction, in that order).  To my surprise I was told the answer was wrong. They wanted you to answer the question in the order the terms appeared in, rather than following basic math rules we learned in grade school. I posted my issue on their Facebook page and was told that they wanted participants to do the math manipulation in the order that it was presented  (rather than following math rules). Granted,  the equation was written in words rather than with symbols, but I had an issue with a company condoning poor math skills.  I received several comments that there are no rules if there are no brackets.  I even had a comment from another participant saying this is the way most contests want you to answer questions.  I was a bit thrown back since some recognize that this isn’t the right way to do math but accept it because that is how contest questions usually work.

Innovation is done well when it is social.  A number of people or teams build on top of one another’s ideas.  Innovation is difficult to do when only the people in your organization that agree your idea is fantastic are the ones on your team.

Why are we accepting  direction or incorrect answers because others are doing the same thing? One person or one company can stand up and do this right. This is how innovation takes place, with one person, one company taking a stand and doing things differently.