Literature about the great innovative thinkers of our time, and throughout history, make for a wonderful Sunday afternoon read; Thomas Edison, Sir Alexander Graham Bell, Best and Banting, Sir Isaac Newton, Stewart Butterfield, Sir Richard Branson, Sandy the maintenance guy and my mother.
Many year-end business articles like to discuss the greatest innovators of the past 12 months. The Canadian Business January 2015 edition focused on Stewart Butterfield and his eight month odyssey to make a billion dollar company. Definitely inspiring, but I am clearly not that clever.
In other years we have read about countless others who have made a fortune with their acumen and foresight.
Is the great innovator a creator or a tinkerer, perhaps a bit of both. You do not always have to be first with an idea in order to be the best. Maybe the tinkerer just needs someone to nudge them in a prescribed direction and then away they go, akin to a push start in a race.
Take a moment to think of all the tinkerers you have worked with. They got by with limited resources. We were certain they could band-aid a solution in the middle of the night with their eyes closed. Somehow, no job ever seemed to be too much.
One of my favourite stories involves Sandy, maintenance man extraordinaire. Before we met, Sandy worked on the maintenance staff of a great lakes freighter. As Sandy liked to point out, his primary job was to ensure the ship got to port, no matter what. Nobody wanted to hear “ I can’t fix it”. Definitely not inspiring during a ravaging storm on Lake Superior.
With a perfunctory flare for the obvious, Sandy would point out to me that there were very few hardware stores in the middle of Lake Superior. Good point. Somehow I came away from these conversations thinking there was more than just a little metaphorical symbolism in the gum and binder twine stories.
Sandy never attained fame or wealth in the literal monetary sense. But he had a wealth of fabulous stories that all rightfully acclaimed his ability to innovate. All I could think of was how great it would be to put a little bit of that into my career. Just figure it out, get it to port.
My mail box patiently awaits the article about my mother as well. Like Sandy she just got things done, without the heavy Scottish broque. Every day somehow we would enjoy meals that were nutritious and filling.
When I came home from school I would search the kitchen, never seeming to see much. Then KAPOW, an hour or two later, I was enjoying this fabulous meal. Simple is good. My kitchen runs in exactly the same manner.
Two lessons I learned from my innovators; just get it to port and simple is good. I truly believe that most people, who are serious about their craft, do not need flash or spectacle. Often we think too hard.
In my career, I am looking for peers whom I can work with who can just get it to port and know that simple is good.
These are the people who somehow find a generator when the power goes out so we can run the massive project, they do not settle for the status quo, they seek out the new idea because it is right, they live and breathe continuous improvement, they get the report done when the clock is everyone’s worst enemy, they know success is the reward of many good ideas.
These innovators are amongst us, they are on your staff. Find them. Celebrate them. Keep their creative intellectual juices flowing.