This is a slight reinvention of an idea proposed in a book I have just finished reading: “Without Their permission” (subtitle: “How the 21st Century will be Made not Managed”) by Alexis Ohanian – co-founder of Reddit.com. 16 months after graduating from the University of Virginia, with the sale of Reddit.com to Conde Nast, Alexis was a millionaire at the age of 23. Now 32, Alexis has influenced and inspired more people than I have throughout my 25+ years as an internal communications professional … and that includes roles at the heart of global organisations with over 200K employees.
What Alexis actually said was “Being entrepreneurial is not limited to entrepreneurs”. He wrote the book as “a blueprint for startuppers and a manifesto for the potential of the internet to empower individual entrepreneurs and reshape the economy without traditional gatekeepers” (Todd Bishop on GeekWire.com). In Alexis’ own words the point of all internet-related activity, including his book, should “…aim to make world suck less” (sic). It is an accessible, potentially life-changing, certainly opinion-changing read for just about anyone. Even me – a self-confessed technophobe and Luddite.
A previous blog of mine lauded author Andrew Keen who is described on Amazon as “…the anti-Christ of Silicon Valley…a dot com apostate” and who was scathing in the role played by sites such as Reddit on the decimation of traditional news media. Like the Kirkus Review of “Without their Permission” I too find Ohanian’s arguments concerning intellectual property rights unconvincing and side with Keen on the hidden dangers posed by what he has called “The Cult of the Amateur”.
However, despite having never had the slightest wish to be an internet entrepreneur, I found Ohanian’s book a riveting read and, while so doing, had a revelation about why so many businesses fail in their ambition to instil a culture of innovation throughout their organisation.
Innovation is the aspiration of so many businesses that I daresay you’d struggle to find a set of value statements that doesn’t mention it in some form or other. Many organisations, in my experience, seem to define innovation as a state of mind that needs to developed and nurtured through the creation of an innovation-friendly environment. Even Google’s 20% rule implied (before they killed it off) that innovation is something that occurs outside your day-to-day job.
The realisation I came to when reading Without Their Permission is that, just as the internet gives everyone with access to a computer the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, the ability to be innovative is equally democratic.
I certainly don’t see myself as an innovator. However, I’ve been involved in internal communication for nearly 3 decades, I love what I do and I’ve never stopped relishing the constant variety of challenge and change. I’ve worked in a large number of industries and sectors and have been privy to seeing firsthand how a wide range of leadership teams think and function. As a result of my experience and interest I’ve regularly been the driving force behind introducing new channels and different ways of presenting strategic initiatives to different audience groups.
The majority of innovation is not the single, life-changing idea, but the series of small changes and challenges continuously clambering over old boundaries into new territory. Innovation comes from anywhere; from naïve questions that reveal the futility of yesterday’s modus operandi, to the lightbulb moments of subject matter experts.
As Ohanian puts it “The future of innovation will be made, not managed.”