To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. Shakespeare
Consider a spectrum with the characteristics of innovation and operations representing each end. Most will plot around the center but bias to one end. Many personality profiles directly or with a bit of interpretation reveal the dominant characteristic.
Being heavy to either characteristic can mean lower tolerance, patience or even desire to be effective at tasks dwelling at the other end. Awareness is essential to avoiding painful decay in effectiveness that even the best emotional intelligence strategies can fix.
Innovation Versus Improvement
Scope of impact and degree of change differentiate these two often substituted terms. A few examples:
- A calculator is an improvement to an adding machine. A computer with Excel is an innovation of the calculator putting complex analysis without needing an advanced mathematics degree.
- For a hundred years automobiles ran on fossil fuels with many improvements to emissions. Electric vehicles are an innovation to emissions by eliminating them. Hydrogen fueled vehicles will innovate further by emitting oxygen from their energy conversion process.
Improvements are often the domain of the operationally biased because their intimate knowledge of the process allows examination and iterative changes. Today’s business climate fueled by readily available and deep analysis allows, actually demands, constant operational improvement.
To get you in the ballpark – score these questions 0-10 [10 agreeing 100% to 0 disagreeing 100%].
- Any process can be overhauled creating dramatic improvements.
- I find the fastest way to execute on deliverables.
- My assignments, presentations or reports are done days in advance.
- I drive my cars into the ground.
- Sports and hobbies are for socializing and relaxation.
Add up your score and multiply by 2. 0 represents the innovation end point and 100 the operational end point of the spectrum.
Score 40-60 Congratulations, you are a rare breed and are probably destined for senior leadership possessing a critical balance of innovation and operational gifts.
Score 60-100 Congratulations, the world runs on, depends on and is performance calibrated to your consistent track record of delivering results.
At this point you 40+ folks can stop reading because you own the world.
Score 20-40 You change the world in large and small ways impacting those around you. But it comes at a price.
The Innovation Burden
Most hiring is to solve for an identified improvement and the value proposition is experience, someone who has seen the end of the movie. Those of us who know that Goose dies at the end have distinct value over those watching Top Gun for the first time. But, it is the innovator who wrote the script that created the mournful but necessary hero story ingredient.
Innovator value comes from seeing opportunities and/or solutions not likely to be identified by the company. Ever see a posting for inventor? In a world calibrated to and expecting results, communicating innovation is challenging. No innovation teased out in these accomplishment constructs:
- Delivered x result at y% to budget.
- Solved z problem with x resources.
- Improved x process with y resources to z result
Because these statements are in the past tense, without careful planning true innovation can read just like over-achievement.
Sorry, no silver bullet. But here are a few guidelines for the innovatively challenged positioning innovative accomplishments:
- Communicate how the solution or need wasn’t identified by the organization until the innovation was brought forward.
- Add modifiers like first company use, discovered and initiated.
- Knowing this about yourself may be enough to change the way accomplishments are presented.
Little hurts like being in the wrong job. Yet many find their way there through legitimate but blinded career progression. Knowing yourself well enough in these dimensions is essential to knowing what doesn’t work. Being able to promote your way to the right role leads to a life well lived.
Steve Jobs summed this up in his 2005 Stanford Commencement address:
You’ve got to find what you love… the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.