Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How Is Innovation Like a Glass of Water?

I just spent an inspiring weekend with my friend Eddie Sturman and his wife Carol at their home in Colorado. Eddie, in my book, is today's version of Tesla: a brilliant inventor whose contributions are substantial--but could be even more significant if big companies that have a vested interest in the status quo of our nation's energy policy would simply take his digital technology seriously. (Check out Sturman Industries on the web for a little snapshot of Eddie and Carol's company.)

Eddie is a master story teller as well as a brilliant inventor/innovator.

My favorite Eddie Sturman story of the weekend goes like this:

Eddie had a meeting with the Chairman/CEO of one of America's corporate giants, a company with which Sturman Industries had done business in the past--and had some disagreements over patents.

Now it was time to see if they would work together as partners.

Eddie put a glass of water in front of the executive. It was filled about half-way up.

"What do you see?" Eddie asked.

The executive was eager to answer.

"I'm an optimist!" he declared. "I see a glass that's half-filled. Not half-empty, but half-filled!"

"Here's what I see," Eddie said. "I see a vehicle."

The executive was genuinely puzzled.

"A vehicle? You mean like a car or a truck? With tires?"

"No," Eddie said. "A vehicle that you can use lots of different ways. Right now, it's a vehicle for satisfying my thirst, if I drink the water. Or it could be a vehicle for delivering medicine, if someone is sick. I don't see something in terms of half empty or half full. I see it as a vehicle that can do a lot of different things, depending on how we want to use it."

Okay, a couple of points here.

First, that's how an incredibly creative innovator thinks. Eddie sees things the way Eddie see them, which is why his "wall of patents" at Sturman Industries has more than 100 plaques commemorating his unique vision.

Second, that's how we need to see the power of innovation in this country. It's not about faux optimism vs. unfortunate pessimism. It's about embracing creativity that changes how we see problems, how we seize opportunities, how we reject simple answers that don't take us anywhere new.

Innovation is the game changer America needs for the future. It will cause disruption: that's the nature of innovation. That's the nature of capitalism.

But without it, we end up with large and listless companies. We end up with a status quo that gradually runs out of energy, runs out of enthusiasm, runs out of jobs, and runs out of options.

What we need is to look with fresh eyes. We need to reframe the old debates that turn into dead-end "either-or" choices.

When you look at a glass of water that's filled to the mid-point, what do you see?

Eddie sees a vehicle.

I'm going to try to learn to see the way Eddie does. It's the wave of the future--and the spirit of innovation--that America and the world need.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb