Learning to Innovate

We often look to other leaders for inspiration, guidance and motivation. Gandhi has always been one I quote often. One of my favorite quotes is:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi

Depending on our perspective, there are a few ways to read meaning into Gandhi’s statement.

We may take this as permission to live in the present and could take this to extremes. There are couple reasons to make life changing decisions based on this philosophy. First, we want to do the most with our life and the present may be all we have and so we choose to do something really impactful to help others or be remembered by others. Second, we want to do the most with the present because this life is the only one we get and so we choose to do something really memorable so that we can feel we lived to the absolute fullest.

We may live out our “bucket list” or perform crazy death defying stunts without much care for growing old or planning for the future. On the other hand, we may simply try to make the most of each day as we live our everyday lives. We may choose to be a bit more laid back about insignificant matters so they don’t ruin our day.

Managed ServicesI am a type A, project manager at heart. I feel most at ease when all the details are sorted out well in advance. I just can’t seem to break away from the habit of organizing and creating at least a semblance of a plan so I can better manage the ensuing and inevitable chaos that follows. I’ve always believed that successful leaders do not walk into situations blind or ignorant.

My attraction to Gandhi’s quote stems from living in the present, but my personality is certainly a mixture of the scenarios listed above.

Simply put: Make every day matter.

Strive to be good, do what’s right, don’t sweat the small stuff, and leave an impression on others that will help give them hope and happiness, help them feel important, or prepare them for the future.

It’s not so simple. It’s something to aspire to and it’s a daily effort to live in this way, especially on days when things do not go as planned.


Humbling Lessons in Over Planning

I’ve worked with a Girl Scout troop for several years now, and let me tell you, it’s not easy to lead a dozen little ladies who are experiencing the madness of pre-teen emotions and constant drama. Presenting in front of a hundred strangers… that’s a walk in the park compared to an hour with a group of hormonal girls. I jest; of course, I love my scouts.

scouts1124I often find myself saying to the girls, “hold on to that energy” (or passion or drive or whatever strong quality is causing the present conflict) “because one day it will serve you well. When you’re leading a company you’re going to need that,” and I close with, “however, right now, we’re learning to respect the rules and listen to our sisters.”

It’s true, they need to learn what is and isn’t acceptable behavior and how to be respectful. We can teach that without breaking their spirit.

Leading young girls is both challenging and rewarding. I walk a fine line of wishing for obedience, order, and perfect planning, while trying to allow room for exploration and creative expression. On more than one occasion, the girls have set me right and proved that while it’s good to be prepared, you sometimes have to see where things take you and be open to the possibilities.

Being with the Girl Scouts not only helps me pass on my knowledge and live a life worth living, but it helps me continue learning because they teach me just as much as I teach them and they remind me never to lose my optimism and spirit.


Innovation Comes Naturally When Constraints Are Removed

There are several zen sayings that liken children to a more perfect knowledge and a closeness to God. Perhaps it is due to their lack of inhibitions or their inquisitive nature. They have no boundaries to their creativity until we set expectations for them to color within the lines. They often have no worries of the consequences or of tomorrow. Children are inquiring, resilient and mostly carefree. There is so much value in those qualities.

If you think about it, innovation comes from pushing the limits, bending things differently, trying again and again and being bold enough to do something that might fail. I’ve found that children and those that hold onto that childlike spirit, tend to push harder, explore more and rarely hesitate before leaping.

That is such a scary thing for a type A planner like myself. As a parent, I can also admit that it makes me queazy that our kids never think before they jump. Sure they survived, but that’s because they got lucky, right? That’s what I tell them, but no, I don’t actually think this is right. By this logic, I have every reason to worry, I should be scared and I should make sure they never jump again.

Worry holds us back when we should be leaping forward.

Yes, we should prepare and yes, we should know what we’re doing and understand the risks, but it’s also okay to fall, to get a little hurt, to be out of the game for a little while. Then, we get back in there and we try again. We do it better and better until we get it right because after all, another great leader once said something to the effect of: It’s not about the number of times you fail, it’s about the one time you succeed.

I have had to find ways to push aside the worry and I challenge myself daily. So to add to what I glean from Gandhi’s quote: Make every day matter and keep learning with eager endless enthusiasm.

We should all be so lucky as to live and learn like children.


Make Your Inspiration List

When asked which innovators inspire me, I found myself naming quite a few architects. Frank Gehry, for example, is an amazing architect who used a mixture of imagination, skills and brilliant talent to design inspiring structures such as the Guggenheim Museum, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the EMP Museum in Seattle (pictured above.) Frank Lloyd Wright and Phillip Johnson also come to mind.

Start your list and find out what it is about these people that inspire you. Learn about them and use their lessons as examples to help build your innovative practices.


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