Innovation and Inspiration

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
                          (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

In the course of the past week, I’ve been thinking (I know, a dangerous habit) about how decisions are made.  Not mundane decisions like what to eat for breakfast, but the bigger decisions, like whether to accept a new job offer, take on a major new project. Of course, there is always  a basic cost-benefit analysis related to these. Some part of the decision-making process seems to be related to evaluation of perceived constraints (for example, I can’t take the new job, because I can’t justify the relocation of my entire family to Timbuktu).  Another aspect deals with real or perceived benefits (the salary is fantastic).  

The mysterious part seems to underpin the process–the values each person brings to the process. Is a higher salary really the primary motivating force for the decision?  Perhaps it is. Do you turn down an otherwise attractive opportunity because of the need to move to an area that isn’t particularly appealing?  Naturally, most people make some attempt to really sort through all the issues when faced with a direct and obvious decision.  However, it seems that many of our decisions fade into the background of everyday life.  These don’t seem like “bigger” decisions at all, and the choices are made on auto-pilot as it were. 

It’s easy to start each day with the intention of bringing energy and innovation to each task, but honestly, it’s so much easier to check your email and answer those.  Most people even think that all of this is getting them “where they want to go.”  Instead, it might be that it is getting them “somewhere” since that is where you get “if you only walk long enough.”  The process of technology transfer can be opaque and frustrating, and finding the motivation or inspiration to “start” can be daunting.  In fact, the demands of everyday life throw up roadblocks every step of the way.  Honestly, there are projects enough without adding “innovation” to the mix. Yet somehow, most of us want more than that for ourselves, and forget that the everyday decisions have a bigger impact on our lives than we might imagine. 

 Innovation requires that daily decisions include some harder choices be made, and this means finding motivation to actually reach the end goal or destination. The goal should be truly inspiring, it should be something we find so compelling, that we can find at least some time to devote to moving forward in that direction.  So that it likely the missing element for most of us. Without a deeper source of inspiration, and a goal that we keep our focus on, we keep moving ahead to somewhere, step by step.   I believe it is helpful in this regard to take a few moments each day to find sources of inspiration, whether it is reading an entertaining yet insightful blog, or having lunch with a thoughtful and intelligent friend who shares your interests.  But of course, then it is just as important to harness the energy of that inspiration, and make just a bit of extra effort to make sure you are heading “where you want to get to” and that you’ve taken a few steps in that direction.

Recommended Reading:

Physics of the Future:  How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100,  Michio Kaku

The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun

Lynchpin, Seth Godin  (not for everyone, of course, but hey, couldn’t leave it off the list!)