Can Anyone Innovate?

As I went around the country last year giving leadership, innovation and collaboration talks at major companies and conferences, I started to hear the same question over and over again, and it amounted to this:

Who is allowed to drive innovation?

Now the actual questions that came up sounded more specific than that. If asked by a 20-something, it sounded like:

“Does this company wants my opinion and ideas?…I’m not so sure…”

And if it was a 50-something management type, the question was posed as:

“Why should we involve all different levels of the company in our direction; multiplicity of opinions and ideas just makes my job harder.”

Behind that comment was always an interesting point of view, which was “will you … just do what I ask”.

Regardless of countries and regions, I heard the same question in the many different configurations: who’s ideas, power, voice is accepted, wanted, or solicited here?

And I started to question something that I’ve always held true. Could it be that for all of our love affair with innovation and what we think it represents, that we’re not very open to the power of Ideas themselves? When we define who is allowed to innovate, are we are limiting ideas to a particular title, or rank, or education?  When we talk of innovation, is that something owned by the elite, the brilliantly educated, those who set direction, and the rest of us are all …  just … doers.

I ask you… do we deny power to ideas, based on who is allowed to have them?

This line of thought reminds me of the movie Ratatouille. I have a little one in my life so I get permission to watch Disney movies regularly and in this particular movie, the premise is whether “anyone can cook”. In particular is this little rat, of all things, entitled to be a great Chef.


Regardless of your own notion of whether a rat should be allowed to cook (cause rats might just freak you out!), perhaps you can think of how you think about who is allowed? Said different, do you think that anyone can innovate?

After all, where do ideas come from? From people, of course.

Ideas have a genesis driven by someone’s story and what they observe about the world. Twitter’s founder recently shared that he envisions a society that works more efficiently and humanely. The backstory of how he used to plot vehicles on an urban grid to see the city and how it ‘lived’ was very much true to how he came up with Twitter.

He gave license to his idea, which was driven not by his ordinariness but by his difference.

And he probably didn’t ask, is this idea allowed here?

Permission is simply the ability to fit in, to conform to whatever perceived understanding is acceptable about what is allowed or not. There’s a historical reason for this permission. There was a time when entire societies were formed on who was in, or out of the castle walls. If you were in, you were clearly going to survive the winter together and whoever was out, almost always died.

Most of us have become so rigidly fixed in our ruts by history (this is my place in the world), or social conditioning (that is not the way this group functions) that we ignore the options of choosing another course of action. Permission may limit us today, where it saved us before.

The beauty of each person is actually in our uniqueness….that each of us – that you and I can each see the world as it isn’t, not the world as it is, and it is that unique impression that allows each of us to change the world, to imagine the future, to come up with a new idea…

And, if you do not allow your own ideas to be seen, then you are not doing justice to your own voice, and the power of your ideas.

And as we think about what this means for organizations and their ability to innovate, we risk something if we do not allow all voices to participate. We would be denying power to ideas, and denying their power on us, wouldn’t we?

1 Reply

  1. I love this. It is the mindset of the entrepreneur… to forget to ask permission :)(I never was good at asking permission 🙂

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