Monday, June 13, 2011

Lessons Learned from…bad haircuts and doughy brownies

At the accounting firm where I work, there’s a big push for “innovation.” In a highly regulated industry that generally attracts rule-abiding people, this is a paradigm-shifting concept. As our CEO acknowledges, the corporate culture does not accept failure. If we want to be innovative, we have to embrace the risk of failure. After a weekend of personal innovative failures - a horrendous haircut (I tried an edgy new salon) and brownies that refused to set (I replaced butter, sugar and flour with applesauce, yogurt and black beans) - I’ve been thinking a lot about what innovation means.

Innovation comes from the Latin word novus. Its English meaning is pretty much what we’d expect: finding new methods and ideas, generating change. But I like to dive into Definition 2.0 and explore other English words that have the same Latin root:

1. nova – star showing a sudden burst of brightness and then subsiding
When we approach innovation, our initial energy does not have to be sustained. In fact, it’s natural that it will fade over time. Sometimes we avoid new projects since we know we can’t devote time and energy for an extended period, but life is made interesting by ‘sudden bursts’ of new ideas. Bring them on, I say!

2. novel – a fictitious prose story of book length, typically about the ordinary life
Innovation doesn’t have to involve the extraordinary. When novels were first written in the 18th Century, they differed from Epics and Odysseys because common people were the protagonists. Innovation can be as simple as taking a different route to work or eating lunch with someone new. Every time we do something ‘novel’ we expose ourselves to the opportunity for a mini adventure.

3. novice – new convert; beginner
We’re petrified of looking stupid. But if we innovate, we won’t be immediate experts; we’ll be starting at the beginning. This can be scary if we’re used to knowing what we’re doing, what to expect and what we’re up against. But we have to be prepared for failures if we’re going to have any successes.

A definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Innovation is the perfect hedge. So my new campaign is called Project Haircut, Mission Brownie. With these concepts in mind, I’m going to try something new every day. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll make the best of it. Who knew undercooked brownies tasted so good frozen?