Finding innovation is a journey. It doesn’t just come to you like magic. You need to be aware in order to see it. If an apple falls on your head and you continue reading your book under the tree, you may not even realize. OK, maybe you would notice an apple on your head, but how about a fly landing on your shoulder? The journey to finding innovation begins by preparing your state of mind to be receptive to receiving new ideas or new ways of thinking.
I’m currently on a mission to find innovation in the area about 20 to 30 miles south of Boston, known as the South Shore. This is a bedroom community, a typical suburb of a big city. People have their lives here, but they commute to Boston or the 128 belt for work. What I am finding is that many people with great ideas live here and are trying to start a business or make a go at a small business. This is what I did 15 years ago when I set up my virtual company to do software and technology consulting. I built a team of 15 people working without an office and using the latest technology to communicate and work more effectively. It worked very well and did not require people to live near each other. As consultants who spent much time at a client site, an office was not really a necessity. At the time, this was an innovative approach to doing business, because no one was doing it and no one could imagine that it could work. Colleagues who started similar companies rented office space that went unused. Some closed shop due to the expense, while others just closed the office and continued in a virtual vein.
Not having an office, however, has its downside. Telephones, instant messages and web discussions do not have the same impact as spending time together physically. We spent a great deal of time fostering effective and frequent communication in order to ensure that we were focused and that we were able to follow tangents of creativity that often resulted in innovative approaches to our web application solutions. The incremental innovations were as important to the quality of the application as the innovation of putting an application on the Internet was at the time. Sometimes, we found that communication could be much more effective by brainstorming in a physical room than by communicating virtually. Since we were geographically disperse, we did not have the luxury of getting together as often as I would have liked. Had it existed, we could have used an application like Second Life, but it probably would have suffered over a 56Kbit dial-up connection to the Internet, which was what many members of the team had.
So, for me right now, finding innovation means finding the people embedded in the local community who are running small businesses, who are trying to create a startup business or who have ideas but do not know how to really get off the ground. Are they all innovative? In the sense that creating a business or developing an idea is a way of thinking that is not in the mainstream mentality of many people, they are innovative. We are innovative. Small businesses are faced with so many live-or-die situations every day, and the way these business owners look at the situations and solve the daily problems requires a change in thought processes, a different way to look at the world than if one were in the corporate world.
Over the past month, I’ve been meeting with some really cool people with some really cool ideas, but we need a greater collective to build momentum. The call is out.