People like to point to the fact that Thomas Edison had an entire innovation factory working for him, that innovation was a team effort. While this is true in general, the deeper truth is that Edison was an entrepreneur. He had to get the ball rolling. At the beginning, the ideas were his, the dreams were his, the innovation factory was his baby. He worked to make things happen. Even in the context of the “We” of his facility in Menlo Park, there were commitments from each individual employed there.
Innovation starts with “I”. It starts in the heart; it starts with an individual commitment, an individual work ethic. Before it can become a communal effort it needs to be an individual dream. Innovation has entrepreneurial roots. When individuals come together with common goals, empowered to make dreams reality, when they’re given freedom to experiment, to be creative, to try, fail, learn and grow, when people are rewarded either intrinsically or extrinsically, then “We” means something. Until then, it’s simply a word used in the context of stirring political, and corporate, pep rallies.
Please don’t misunderstand me. “We” is powerful. But it’s only powerful if the following criteria are met:
- Everyone being called, “We”, must consider themselves part of “We.” (If I say you’re part of a Tribe, you need to agree.)
- Anyone saying, “We”, must be acknowledged as part of “We”. (If you say you’re part of a Tribe, I need to agree.)
- “We” must all believe in the same goals and means to accomplish those goals. (Each individual agrees to certain roles.)
- Each individual receives a reward for contributing to “We”.
- Each individual must be empowered to act in ways that helps accomplish the goals of “We”.
- “We” does not turn against the individual. “We” respects the individual. As such, “We” respects, and needs, diversity – especially in the context of innovation.
“We”, paradoxically, is fragile. If all 6 of the above criteria are not met, especially the first 3, there is no “We”. Strictly speaking, we is a virtual entity – it only exists when the above 6 criteria are met. Saying “We can do this! We can change this!” while perhaps inspiring, provides no direction.
On the other hand, “I” does not have the pre-requisites above. It is powerful and strong. Yes, there may be circumstances that hinder innovation. But, in the end, it’s about digging deep and finding a way.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt
So, how do we create “We”?
Address the needs of, inspire and empower, the individual. Let people be “I”. Let people be authentic, let them be true to themselves. People are social creatures, they leverage relationships naturally when given opportunities. “We” – Tribes – form somewhat spontaneously where individuals blossom.
You are change!
Make a difference in your own life, in your family, in your community!
The ripples will build upon themselves, and the “We” that’s formed will be even more powerful.
Innovation starts with “I”.