Thursday, 30 August 2012

Corrosive Mediocrity

Sometimes someone says something to you with a turn of phrase that cuts through everything else you’ve heard on the topic.  In a moment of laser like clarity the problem is revealed - laid bare in all its ugliness.

I’m lucky enough to have one of those jobs where it’s my business to poke about with company leaders and try to unearth why innovation isn’t happening.  Recently I asked the leader of a mid sized company why they were dissatisfied with their rate of innovation – ‘what’s the one thing you wish you could change around here’ I asked.

I’ve heard this answer before but never expressed so clearly: “Corrosive mediocrity – that’s our problem.  We’ve got used to not pushing, we’re just a big ball of busy-ness, kidding ourselves we’re making progress but in reality we’ve lost the ability to irritate each other”.

How brilliant – this concept of the necessary irritant and how the lack of it creeps up to corrode you.  And it makes a lot of sense.  Innovation is born out of dissatisfaction with the way things are.  Anger is an essential component of innovation – it shines a light on a wrong that needs righting and drives us to action.

So next time you feel the slightest urge to stamp your foot or to interrupt the meeting and ask “What’s so great about this?” remember that being pissed off is productive.  Better to irritate a great debate than to sit back and accept good but not great ideas.

I’m exploring this and other innovation concepts in my new book: The Science of Serendipity – How to Unlock the Promise of Innovation in Large Organisations.  To be published by John Wiley and Sons in early November.