The consciousness to innovate

“We as a community like to believe that we are catalytic, but truth be told we are sustaining the old (tried & true), therefore impeding real change.” This comment was sent to me by an individual at the Dade Community Foundation (greater Miami area) during a Web cast I led last week for community foundations in the Knight Foundation communities. It’s not often that someone is so direct and honest, let alone in a public setting. But it does happen – and when it does, it’s worth noting. It also reminds me of the recent four-day Harwood Public Innovators Lab in Baltimore. There, an individual turned to the group and said, “I am not ruthlessly strategic in my work.” He really wanted to be, but he realized he wasn’t.

Both of these comments deal with our own consciousness about what we see and do. When I hear people make statements like the one on the Web cast or in Baltimore – or when I hear myself make such statements – they aren’t necessarily offered up sheepishly as a way to express guilt, or ignorance, or to declare that our previous actions were all wrong.

Rather, such comments reflect a discovery – about how we see things, about what might come next, about how we can act.

When I heard the comment on the Web cast, my first reaction was to tell all the participants listening in how refreshing it was for someone to step up and make such a comment. Indeed, don’t you sometimes wonder how we can end up in conversations in which we talk about nearly everything but the very thing that is blocking our progress: ourselves? The same was true in the Public Innovators Lab: When the individual made his comment about not being ruthlessly strategic, it opened up the entire conversation for others. Now, we could really get down to business.

It’s funny, or at least intriguing, that at times we must say something ourselves in order to know it. But, just as importantly, at other times we can only hear ourselves when we listen to others, when we are silent, and then discover something we did see or know about ourselves.

Innovation and change, which is what my work focuses on, is made up of all kinds of content, organizational characteristics, leadership, processes, and other elements. But those elements are only as powerful as our connection to our own consciousness about where we stand and why.