You Are What You Do

I often have people ask me how to build an innovative culture. The simple answer that is hard to execute is this: you build an innovative culture by innovating.

Executing ideas is a critical part of innovation. If you think that innovation is only about having ideas, you won’t actually make anything. As fake Mark Zuckerburg says to the fake Winklevii in The Social Network: “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” In other words, if they had done anything other than talk, they would have had an actual thing.

We have to actually make things happen to innovate.

I ran across two excellent blog posts today that reinforce this point (read them both – they’re excellent). The first is from the 37Signals blog, and it includes this quote from Jason Fried:

The things you do more often are the things you’re going to get good at. So if you get really good at spending money, you’re going to be really good at spending money. If you have to work on making money from day one, you’re going to get really damn good at making money. And that’s what you need to be as an entrepreneur…

So again, to get good at innovation, we can’t just talk about it, we have to do it. And the more we actually execute ideas, the better we get at it. This is the way to build an innovative culture.
Father and son surf lesson in Morro Bay, CA 11 of 12

The second post is from John Winsor (via Diego Rodriguez). His title pretty much sums things up – It’s Not About What You Say You Do, It’s About What You Do.


The analogy that he uses is learning to surf. Winsor says:

Yet, I’ve discovered there are very few people who actually surf. Why is that? There is one simple answer: surfing is hard. I have a personal theory about surfing. It takes riding a thousand waves to become a surfer. It doesn’t matter if you catch 20 waves a day for 50 days or one wave a day for a thousand days; you just can’t get around the experience of learning the hard way.

If you want to be an innovator how will you ride a thousand waves? Start innovating. Start doing and making.

So that’s it. The way to be an innovator is to innovate. The way to build an innovation culture is to innovate. That is both simple and hard. It’s hard because there are many obstacle to innovation. It’s simple because the more you innovate, the better you’ll get at innovation.

Start practicing.

(photo from flickr/mikebaird under a Creative Commons License)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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4 thoughts on “You Are What You Do

  1. Have you read Dov Seidman’s book “How,” Tim? Phenomenal stuff.

    Seidman proposes TRIPs: Trust, Risk, Innovation, Progress

    Trust: Everyone in the organization believes in the mission, gives their absolute best, and supports everyone else. The foundation of everything is trust.

    Risk: If there’s a chance I’ll hear all about how this idea flopped, I’m not even going to bring it up. When I can trust others to support me in trying new ideas – however bizarre – I can try new things.

    (Tying the above to your recent posts on idea-generation, Tim, trust is what enables the divergence of new ideas to be evaluated before convergence and final decision-making, imo.)

    Innovation: Innovation stems from that which is learned through trial and error, through discovery, and idea-generation.

    Progress: When people trust each other, they are more confident about taking risks, which leads to innovation and true progress.

    The foundation of all of this is trust. You are what you do?

    Will the leaders in the room please show the managers to the door?

  2. Thanks for that Brian – very interesting. I haven’t read How, but I’ll look it up – it definitely sounds pretty well-aligned with the things I’m thinking about all the time…

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