Why Existing Leaders Don't Innovate

Paul Hebert Audacious Ideas, Employee Coaching, HR, Innovation, Organizational Development, Paul Hebert, Performance, Training and Development

I recently saw an interesting indie film that was first released in 2011. The film received positive reviews from critics, including Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave the film 3 ½ stars out of four, and ultimately grossed about $2 milli

on worldwide. Not a big hit. The film is called Another Earth.

It is pitched as a science fiction/drama movie, but it’s very light on the science fiction and heavy on the drama. The story focuses on a young woman ex-con, who and after being released from prison for a fatal DUI accident, wants to put her past behind her and apply for passage on a shuttle to a newly discovered alternate Earth within our solar system. There is also a lot of back story about who she killed in the DUI accident and the relationship she ultimately builds with the lone survivor. But the real key event in the movie that I think has relevance within HR and leadership in general is the content of the contest entry the main character begins writing in order to win her a spot on the first shuttle to the alternate Earth.

When You Got Nothin To Lose

Below is the beginning of her entry…

“When early explorers first set out West across the Atlantic, most people thought the world was flat. Most people thought if you sailed far enough west, you would drop off a plane into nothing. Those vessels sailing out into the unknown, they weren”t carrying noblemen or aristocrats, artists or merchants. They were crewed by people living on the edge of life: the madmen, orphans, ex-convicts, outcasts like myself. As a felon, I”m an unlikely candidate for most things. But perhaps not for this. Perhaps I am the most likely.”

Boy, he has she got that nailed. Every movie I’ve ever seen about explorers, finding new lands, all had included crews that were the bottom castes of society. These were the people that had nothing to lose and everything to gain. These were the people who thought rules were for everyone else and merely guidelines for themselves.

In other words, these are the people, who on first blush, you probably don’t want in your company.

Leading and Being In Front are 2 Wildly Different Things

Sure, there are many Executives within your company that lead big teams and have big jobs who might advance innovations. But they only do so as long as they can keep one foot firmly planted on the shore of what they currently do while reaching to create something that is easily connected to that comfort zone. That”s what incremental improvement looks like. Crossing rivers – not oceans.

But true, eye-popping innovation may just come from those that are willing to not see the destination, AND not keep one foot on the shore behind them.

True, groundbreaking, disruptive innovation may just come from those that have nothing to lose. It may be that team of people you should consider are mad, are orphans in your organization, ex-convicts – or at least someone on performance improvement, outcasts “cuz they don”t like company birthday celebrations. If you can find them and find a leader who can let go of shore you”ve really got something.

Before you RIF that misfit – see if you can use them on a special innovation voyage. One with no chance of success, no destination picked out – only a general direction of “go west” until you hit something good.”

Are you that innovative? Can you make that call? Or do you always need to be able to see the shore behind you to be comfortable?

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.