Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You are hereby authorized to innovate

I'm pretty sure the only thing stopping us from taking the action we really think we should be taking is ourselves.

A number of years back, I was feeling a tremendous frustration with some of the patterns and culture of my work. Everything was urgent and everything was a priority. I wouldn't be surprised if this sounds familiar to a few of you.

I was challenged. When it has to be high quality, when it has to be done fast and "for the last time Nevin, no, we can't hire more staff," what's to give? Time and time again, it was I that relented. I worked the weekend or the lunch hour, grumbled about it and ultimately got the task done.

Anyway, a couple years of this... yes, I said years... and as I said, I was sick of the pattern. I still wanted to create value in the organization, but I didn't believe in our methods for creating it. Actually, I didn't just disagree. I was confident we would NEVER reach our goals if we didn't fix some of that systemic stuff. I also came to the slow realization that no-one was going to save me from it. There was no-one from up on high who "got it" and was going to eventually fix it.

Then it came to me. Titles and authority don't matter. This wasn't just me saying "Titles and authority don't matter." This was a change of heart. A deep commitment came with knowing titles and authority don't matter. I knew change comes from those who simply choose to take personal responsibility, and this knowledge gave me permission to disobey, to challenge and to generally raise a ruckus.

We can look in the mirror and say, "I hereby authorize you to innovate." I think that's where the magic happens. Everything after that is just uncomfortable and deeply fulfilling.

I jest, of course. You get used to the discomfort.

So, here's an exercise. All the things that we have declared as untouchable in our jobs? They're not. Stop using that as excuse. Get honest with yourself. Ask what really happens if you don't get it in on time? What happens if you say, "sorry, I'm keeping my lunch plans?" Prove to me that it does more than start a conversation, a conversation you've been wanting to have for a long time.

And by the way, "not getting that promotion" doesn't count as a reason. We're talking about strategies for REDUCING the insanity.