Great Innovation is ALWAYS Intrinsic

I just read an interesting Harvard Business Review blog that asks “Can a Big Company Innovate Like a Start-Up?”  It raises some critical business questions for these tumultuous times in which change is the only constant, and the ability to innovate has become a basic survival skill.

However, as innovation becomes the new ascendant ‘Holy Grail’ of capitalism, I’m troubled by one glaring psychological fact that is quite often (unconsciously) overlooked by aspiring innovation gurus:

Great innovation is always intrinsic.

That’s right.  Always.  Truly innovative thinkers never innovate in order to get financial rewards. In fact, truly innovative thinkers do not innovate ‘in order to’ get anything…They innovate because they have a deep abiding curiosity and a dangerous habit of asking “What if..” about everything they see. Radical innovators are in love with uncertainty and addicted to adventure.

Now, I can hear you arguing: “Yeah, but look at so-and-so! He made $40 billion dollars for his innovative product idea...” Yes, of course. Please understand that I’m not suggesting that innovators never receive rewards for their radical innovations. Instead, I’m saying that the innovation itself was rarely (if ever) primarily motivated by the reward itself.

The moment of innovation is complete, in and of itself.  It does not exist in order serve some other time-based material or ego need.

For all great innovators rewards are an afterthought. The thrill of discovery is the thing.  And human imagination is the infinite mind-space through which they discover tomorrow’s truly transformative ideas today…but for the sheer joy and spirit of adventure.

My advice?

The next time your business is in need of some serious innovation, throw away the old corporate mindset that believes money and rewards are the answer. Instead, do a little inward reflection and find that hidden spark of passionate curiosity buried within you about the problem that your business faces.  Share your curiosity as a passionate question. Let your own passion spark the curiosity of others on your team. Set time aside to embrace your ignorance together and revel in the mystery of the absolutely impossible.

Let the fire of inquiry burn, and then simply listen.

Great questions will spark great ideas. And great ideas will inevitably inspire breakthrough innovation.

John Marshall Roberts is a communication expert and applied behavioral scientist with a subversive sense of humor, and more than a decade of strategic consulting experience. A dynamic and popular speaker and workshop leader within the sustainability movement, John has been invited to speak by a variety of leading organizations, which include the US White House, The New Zealand Department of Conservation, LOHAS, the SustainAbility (England), and TEDx. He is founder of the strategic communication research firm, Worldview Thinking.