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Innovation: To have nice flowers, it's not enough to choose the best seeds

Innovation: To have nice flowers, it's not enough to choose the best seeds

Unlike what many believe, innovation is not something one can control from start to finish--in fact, when a step towards innovation is taken, the results are usually beyond what any of us could have designed or understood at the time. Just like a flower garden, innovation emerges and, as soon as it does, the kind of continuous care that is taken will determine its health and vitality. When we plant seeds there is a lot we can control - the soil, sun exposure, water, what seeds to plant. But with even the most ideal of conditions, we cannot know where the more majestic flowers will emerge.

Of course, a nice garden starts by choosing what to plant and the quality of the seeds. One cannot expect roses if one has planted tulip bulbs. A garden depends on the ideal combination of species to ultimately achieve something truly beautiful and harmonic. It also does no good to choose promising species and seeds and just throw them on the ground, expecting that someday, something beautiful will appear. I have seen similar things in my executive life - brilliant people who found themselves in unfavorable work environments and thus walked away from huge paychecks to find situations that are more favorable to exercising their innovative potential.

It does no good to choose promising species and seeds and just throw them on the ground, expecting that someday,  something beautiful will appear.

Talent, like seeds, needs the right soil to germinate and enough room to grow. Too much water will destroy a garden, just as too much pressure can kill the ability to innovate. Innovation needs freedom in its broader sense: freedom to think, to make mistakes, to experiment, to live and connect ideas, to work at whatever time of day favors output. If you cut a flower, you will never know how beautiful it might eventually be.

Some plants need more sun and others less, but all will need some light for photosynthesis. Likewise, talent must be exposed to client pains if they are to resolve them. If your staff has no contact with your clients, if they do not watch what they do and how they do it, it is unlikely they will produce anything more than spectacular products of little or no use. Plants that need sun should get as much as possible, while those that need less should be in a place where the sun is not directly on them. However, with no light at all there will be no flowers. The ideal combination of sun and water leads to growth. Similarly, innovation requires the right amount of contact with the problem and time to create.

If your staff has no contact with your clients, if they do not watch what they do and how they do it, it is unlikely they will produce anything more than spectacular products of little or no use. 

Culture, like soil, is the medium. We all know that soil that has been used for the same crop for a long time is no longer suitable for other crops. A punitive, isolationist, theatrical, non-authentic culture where information does not flow is like dead soil - dry, caked, depleted of nutrients and useless. You can start out with the best seeds in the world but in this type of soil they will not germinate. Huge, well established companies have only been able to innovate following renewal, or by investing in start-ups or creating independent areas that become true laboratories. All of this must be segregated from the corporate environment with its short-term targets and policies, the major killers of innovation. A culture of innovation is a culture of entrepreneurism, of making mistakes, of change and experimentation, of candid feedback and information sharing, and one that is always - always focusing on the client. 

Also important for a majestic garden is to pull out weeds and clean around the flowers planted, removing everything that could keep the garden from blooming. Nothing is more discouraging for those with talent than to see mediocrity gaining ground and empty rhetoric, like dead flowers sharing the same nutrients. Mediocrity kills talent. There is no greater tragedy for a business than to lose its talents, it is even worse than losing its clients. Keeping low performers around offends the high performing employees, it tarnishes their shine, diminishes their beauty, and crushes their motivation.

Mediocrity kills talent. There is no greater tragedy for a business than to lose its talents, it is even worse than losing its clients.

Diversity and risk have led to variance in innovation. A multiplicity of flowers may sometimes result in an eyesore, but it also has the potential to yield some of the most enchanting gardens. By blending seeds in different experiments, we will have different, contrary gardens. Some will yield splendid results. When we bring together different people, with a variety of beliefs and backgrounds, and from differing areas of knowledge, the result might be disappointing, but it could also lead to breakthrough innovations that can change an organization's future.

You must visit, talk, provoke, remove mediocrity, and foster risk, while all the time being aware and accepting that some initiatives will never prosper.

Gardens do not grow alone, nor do they produce healthy flowers. They require care, attention, maintenance, and cleaning. Innovation needs the attention of senior management. Culture is something that leaders either embrace and foster or just tolerate. If leaders foster a culture of innovation, the entire organization will do the same. You must visit, talk, provoke, remove mediocrity and embrace risk, while all the time being aware and accepting that some initiatives will never prosper. For those who believe this takes a lot of energy that could be used for other purposes, innovation may not be something you really want to pursue. Often flowers are viewed merely as adornments, and the focus is on planting a single crop and doing it well. Even if you buy a ready-made garden, without proper care it will wither and die. On the other hand, those with patience, resilience, and a sparkle in their eyes, who promote something that is free, authentic, and potentially grand, will have the satisfaction of constantly walking through the most beautiful fields of blooms.

Published by: Dr. Bernardo Lustosa // Partner/CEO at ClearSale

Promoting innovation is like growing a garden! It requires caring for the soil, watering, and choosing the best seeds. Even so, the outcome is not totally predictable. Failures must be tolerated as it is such attempts that will yield disruptive innovations. Caring for the soil is as important as caring for the crop. This is just one of the many analogies that I hope will help you reflect on whether you truly want to focus on having an innovative business...

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