Why Being an Innovator is Like Being on the Dating Scene
As an innovation junkie, I am often reminded of my dating years. They are long behind me, but that same range offeelings from intrigue, excitement, and joy to frustration, disappointment, despair and then back to intrigue seem to creep into my consciousness quite often.
Got me thinking — when you go through each day continuously imagining how you could improve some product, service or experience that just feels wrong, outdated, or overdue for an overhaul, you are continuously faced with a decision: do I explore or ignore? Most of these mental machinations will be ignored, either because they are too complicated, too time consuming or simply not worth the effort. But every once in a while you will consider giving the ‘fixer upper’ a shot. Sound familiar?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not claiming to be void of some personal renovation opportunities myself, just saying that when we are in search of a good fit — be it a project, job opportunity, or mate — we have some criteria.
My criteria when I was dating included all the basics: good heart, good family, hard worker, and handsome, plus some of the not so basics: nice shoes. If I didn’t like his shoes, I didn’t waste my time. Of course, that was during a time when those horrible jazz-dancing-style-black-lace-up shoes were all the rage amongst the local Rhode Island guys named Mario wearing the thick gold chains, boasting heaps of chest hair exploding from their one-size-too-small, strategically low-buttoned dress shirts. So the shoes acted as the filters only if I was looking down first, otherwise a quick glance would do it. But sometimes your average J. Crew looking dude looked like he had it all going on, but glance down and there they were, the jazz shoes. Ignore and move on.
My innovation project criteria?
It needs to be a problem that is really worth solving. I simply don’t have the time to help every small business owner I see with a really bad business name, terrible curb appeal, and no value proposition transform their offering. And chances are I can probably find the value they are attempting to offer somewhere else. Ignore and move on.
I need to have the right skill set, or be able to find it. If I had the technical ability to invent a windshield wiper that cleaned the whole window and not just two large arcs, or solve the Tupperware lid issue, or create the world’s first low cost, automatic body massager that feels as good as it does when Evan from the Biltmore Spa works that job-induced stress out of my back, I would. But I don’t. Ignore and move on.
And finally, I have to have a brave, willing and hungry client. If the perpetrators of a gross misfire in delivering value really don’t want to change, it ain’t going to happen. Happens all too often. They may say: Yes! We need to solve that problem, or we value innovation as a key strategic tent pole in our corporate strategy, or we want to disrupt the marketplace and be the leader in our industry! But more often than not, they are not REALLY clear on what true transformation and change will bring, and the discomfort that can come with ambiguity, risk, and fear of change in general can be too much. Ignore and move on.
So why is all of this like being on the dating scene? Let’s break it down:
We see an innovation opportunity [potential future husband], become intrigued, and begin experimenting with the capabilities [kissing and dance skills] with some human centered research [good kisser but dances like Elaine from Seinfeld]. We imagine a better experience [world champion swing dancing stars, who give each other a hot kiss on the gold medal podium]. We develop a prototype [ballroom dancing classes]. We experiment [Juan Pablo is standing behind your man and he is enjoying that a bit too much, shutting down every opportunity for future swing dancing with your homophobic mate]. We iterate [hip hop classes downtown, and don’t forget to add ‘fix the homophobia thing’ to your ‘to do’ list]. We fail [simply no rhythm whatsoever — oh, if only Juan Pablo was straight]. We learn and move on to the next innovation opportunity [back to the dating scene], with the same absolute passion and conviction we had the first time, only this time we take our learnings with us [go to a dance club instead of a bar and if the shoes are ok, and he’s keeping a beat, try again, maybe this time you will scale].
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I have experienced both all the joy and frustration of being an innovation junkie in my professional life, and wouldn’t change any of it for the world. And despite what may appear as still very raw war wounds from my dating years, I did (admittedly after a lot of Marios), find my perfect ‘fixer upper’ who was definitely worth it, let me use my skill sets on him (used a few of his own on me), and had the courage to tell ME when I was done iterating and he was done scaling. In the process, I learned a lot and will take all those lessons on to my next husband.
Oops! Wait a minute, I guess the metaphors and analogies need to stop there.
Love you honey!
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