Innovation, Innocence and Wisdom
This past week, we held the first in a series of 20 events that will crisscross the country in 2014 called the Vistage Executive Summits: Leading Innovation. We heard from an impressive array of speakers from Sekou Andrews who started the day by regaling us with his poetry to Erik Wahl, who closed the conference by creating 3 amazing pieces of art – live on stage.
With Forbes Publisher and Columnist Rich Karlgaard serving as emcee and master interviewer, the audience was also treated to insights from San Diego Chargers CEO, AG Spanos; University of Michigan research professor, Dr. Richard Curtin; Backpocket COO founder, Cameron Herold, and renowned executive coach and best-selling author, Marshall Goldsmith.
While all the speakers were terrific and approached innovation from myriad perspectives, I was struck by the spoken word and the message embedded in the art forms of our first and last speakers of the day. Sekou Andrews challenged the audience to BIG themselves, referring to the movie Big, starring Tom Hanks, where a boy in an adult body understood all too well the difference between what would be fun for kids and what would not.
Sekou said, “Instead of asking, why didn’t I think of that? Ask why didn’t I think like that?” Erik Wahl, reminded us of the famous Picasso quote, “It took me 4 years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Erik asked how many people in the audience could draw. A few people sheepishly raised their hands. Erik told the gathering of 500 business leaders that if you asked high school students the same question, you’d count more hands, and if you asked a group of elementary school students, just about everyone would raise their hands.
As all great artists do, they inspire us to reflect. It occurred to me that most people “grow up” out of creativity and grow into fear and apprehension, only to return to creativity as they retire.
Ever wonder why your grandparent took up painting or started to learn a musical instrument in their 60s? Also, consider the undeniable connection between a young child and a grandparent. It’s as if they speak a language of clarity and simplicity that only they can understand. It’s a language born to innocence and informed by wisdom that leaves everyone in-between scratching their heads and going about their self-important pursuit of making the complex more complicated. This long, “in-between” stage of life defines most peoples’ adult years.
Seems to me that if we could do a better job of holding on to our natural inclination to create and explore, we might be even more innovative as a society. Imagine the possibilities! You can start by creating a safe place for people, specifically your employees, to create and explore without fear of judgment or being fired. Create a culture that embraces Sekou’s mantra, “You win some, you learn some with each mistake you make.” Cameron Herold told the crowd that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Don’t let it eat your lunch and dinner, too!