There are plenty of excuses for not innovating – for not taking steps to change things. However, if you see a way to make things better and you don’t do anything, then you’re letting your situation control you. If you’re dissatisfied with the situation, you have to change the way you act.
Here is the way that Tom Peters puts it in a post from Innovation Excellence:
I believe there is one and only one source of innovation – pissed off people.
(If you go to the link, you can see a good video from Peters, but I had to take it out of this post since it only autoplays, which is annoying.)
But in addition to being pissed off, you actually have to take action. Here is how Gary Cox frames it in his book How to Be an Existentialist:
Existentialism holds that you can only truly change the way you think and feel about your life by acting differently, by acting rather simply reacting, by asserting your will rather than simply allowing yourself to be swept along by circumstances, by always taking responsibility for yourself and what you do.
When there’s a gap between where we are and where we want to be, we need to innovate.
If you could distill everything you’ve learned so far into a single word of advice to yourself, what would that one word be?
Why does this one word mean so much to you?
For much of my life “think” has been more important than “act”, and that’s been a source of weakness for me. So I constantly remind myself that to get anything done, I have to act. One way to remind myself to do this is to focus on having an impact – on people and on events.
How does this one word impact what you do (or want to do) with your life?
It guides how I interact with people. On my best days, I remember that I’m trying to have a positive impact on everyone with whom I interact. On less good days, that slips down the priority list, but I try to keep it as an objective as much as I can.
What has this word done for you so far?
It’s helped me figure out what things I should and shouldn’t be doing. There are always more opportunities than time, so filtering is really important. Sorting based on impact can be useful at even the very micro level – it’s what helps me in the evenings when I know that writing a blog post does more good than watching television (at least, I hope it does!). It also helps me make decisions about what jobs I should have, and what projects I should be doing. That said, it took me nearly fifteen years in the workforce before I even started to get this right. But what I’ve found is that the more I focus on the impact that I want to have, the better my decisions get.
Here’s another way of approaching it, also from Gary Cox’s book:
If a person really did live each as though it were his last he would spend each day panicking while partying and rapidly reduce himself to a nervous, drunken, insolvent wreck. Nonetheless, a person should live his life recognizing that each moment, each day, is precious and utterly irreplaceable.
If each moment and day is precious and utterly irreplaceable, then there’s really only one choice: act!