“I’m not innovative.”
This is probably the most dangerous narrative you can tell yourself in a dynamic world that demands constant change. And I’ve heard this said so many times – in my own head, and by people who believe that innovation is this magical skill. A skill that only belongs to the tinkerers of software code, and the college dropouts who create the next awe-inspiring digital disruption.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to have Steve Jobs-like creativity to mould what our mind’s eye has not yet envisioned. Yes, there are great acts of innovation that lend support to this belief. But there is another perspective on innovation which removes it from the realm of the exclusive few.
This perspective bases innovation in attitude, opportunity recognition, and enthusiasm, to viewing life as the grand adventure it is. Applying fresh, unfettered perspectives to old things, and pushing the limits of what you think is possible. Most times this requires you to go to a place within yourself that’s uncomfortable.
My innovation journey has involved pushing my own self-induced boundaries, which, in turn, has required vulnerability. I started thinking about what I was telling myself every day, including the discouraging language I used: “You’re just not creative. You can’t innovate. That just won’t work.”
Your mind is a powerful tool.
It can help you build up a skill you didn’t know you had. Or it can break you down, put you in a box, and stop you from even exploring. Make sure your mind is working for you, and not against you. You need all the allies you can get. And your mind should be your first.
When I created the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Enterprise Development Academy – a self-sustainable centre that uses a scholarship-based model to make high quality business education and support available to entrepreneurs – there was a healthy level of scepticism.
People weren’t sure if it was a charity; they wondered how we would be able to “teach” entrepreneurship, and didn’t believe that entrepreneurs would have the time or inclination to be at the school.
Scepticism and questioning is an important ingredient to refining innovation, and it should be welcomed.
Very often, we are so absorbed and in love with our ideas that we forget that they need to be interrogated. Having to justify our ideas to others helps us build the business case. Innovators, and others who show great initiative need to get comfortable with the possibility and truth of failure.
Living in a society that is not very accepting of failure means that people tend to get nervous about taking risks. But re-frame the value of failure and wear it as a badge of honour – one that provides valuable learning rather than one that defines your innovation or entrepreneurial identity.
It will motivate others to follow your path. A constant sense of curiosity and play will help you to build this. As I create new ways of expanding our work, and helping to build more vibrant entrepreneurial systems, I try not to take myself too seriously.
I value what I’ve learned, but I’m careful not to believe it is the only way. I’ve often heard it said that there are no original ideas left in the world.
That all ideas are now an assimilation, revision or adaptation of what’s already been done.
So, considering this, do you need to be an innovator?
The real question is: Can you afford not to be?
The changing context today means that nothing is certain; nothing is contained; nothing is static; nothing is claimed.
|There are major social challenges facing the world. And the thinking that solves them cannot be the thinking that caused them. More of the same is not what is needed now. Innovators are the ones who will disrupt the negative socioeconomic trajectory.|
That said, being innovative is not just about doing something differently. You need to really understand what you are trying to solve. What’s the problem you’re trying to address, or the value you’re trying to create?
And how do you apply an entrepreneurial mindset (with a huge dose of persistence) to making your innovation work?
Despite the challenges, South Africa is on the precipice of greatness.
There is a tipping point in our socio-economic, and political structures that is evolving and paving the way for people who think differently. A greater level of active citizenry is growing and people are taking proactive ownership of the direction in which we go.
Our country’s future will be defined by people who have the courage to create and lead with innovative solutions, which will be needed as we enter the unknown.
Be one of those people. We need them.
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About Yogavelli Nambiar:
Yogavelli Nambiar is the founding director of the Enterprise Development Academy at GIBS, University of Pretoria, which she started in 2014. She is the South African country director of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative, and a founder-director of the Enterprise Development Council of South Africa. She also sits on a ministerial task team for the National SMME Development Master Plan.
She is a member of a Department of Higher Education and Training steering committee to support the development of entrepreneurial universities in South Africa. Nambiar is a board member of READ Educational Trust, and lectures on Social Entrepreneurship and Social Change.
She has worked in the women’s human rights and disabilities sectors in India for seven years, for which she was featured in the 2014 book Inspired, by Jennifer Renton. She has an MBA, and degrees in Development Studies and Community, and Health Psychology.