From the Good Ideas File: for the innovator, the problem becomes the innovation source

At its core, The Local Economy Revolution is all about community innovation.  We’ve seldom thought systematically about how to innovate communities before, even though we need to do it all the time and have seldom needed to do it intentionally more than we do now.  Thankfully, innovation is a major topic for business types, and if we’re thoughtful we can transfer some of what they have learned in the last few years to our work.  I’ve even done a podcast interview with a person at Procter & Gamble whose job is to train people within that big corporation to identify potential innovations and bring them to light.  If they find innovation so necessary that they train people to do it, then chances are you can, too.

This article from a business blog cites a study that was completed on the oil and gas industry — not exactly government or community work, but the findings are illustrative — and probably transferrable, since they have to do more with how we as people perceive barriers and opportunities than anything else.  This first selection summarizes that oil and gas study:

One of the questions that they asked is “what are your barriers to business success?” Here are the answers for three groups of firms: those that don’t innovate on the left, the middle is firms that do some innovation, and the right are the novel innovators – the ones that come up with completely new to the industry innovations.


For the non-innovators, everything gets in the way.  But for the general innovators, the main barriers are learning challenges and contracting constraints.  The big finding is that for the novel innovators, there are no external barriers.

This is a really important finding.  When I talk with firms that struggle with innovation, all I hear about are the barriers.  There are labour problems, and too much competition.  Their industries are over-regulated, and they face too much uncertainty.

The big idea in this work is that novel innovators face these problems as well, but instead of letting them prevent innovation, they use them to spur innovation….

If you view issues like red tape, labour problems and competition as barriers, then they will make you less competitive.  But if you view them as innovation triggers, you will be much more likely to succeed.  Innovative firms in this study are nine times more likely to find ways to increase productivity than non-innovative firms are.  A big part of the reason why is that the innovators respond to barriers differently.  Instead of seeing them as something that blocks progress, they view barriers as a trigger that requires an innovative response.

Constraints spur innovation, if you have the right attitude.  Where others see only barriers, innovators see opportunities.

In a sense, a barrier is an opportunity if you can look at it from another perspective.  Sounds cliche, but it appears to be true.

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