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Forget technology already. Just innovate!

It’s 1980 and you sit down at your desk to start your workday. On your desktop are a telephone, stacks of papers, a pen or two. Your inbox is a metal tray. Your contacts are stored in a Rolodex.  Your calendar hangs on the wall. And you get your news from a newspaper.

Today, it’s difficult to imagine working in such an environment. No email. No internet. No text messages. No sales force automation software. Not even a spreadsheet. What on earth did they do all day?

With all our productivity-enhancing technology, you would assume we are significantly more innovative than people were then. But we’re not.

True, the pace of innovation, as measured by productivity gains, increases exponentially. But the acceleration is rather steady.

In other words, periods of remarkable technological advancement, such as we’ve seen since 1980, do not remarkably affect the pace of innovation.

That’s because technology is not innovative. People are innovative. Sometimes technology helps, sometimes it hinders. Recognizing this distinction is critical to success.

Now back to work. Somebody has to get through all that email today.

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History's Greatest Innovators

When the U.S. Civil War began in 1861, medical care was primitive, often dangerous, and at times even barbaric.  It had not advanced significantly in thousands of years.

The war’s intensity and devastating new weaponry caused unprecedented numbers of wounded soldiers.  Most of them died while under medical care.  A soldier’s chances of survival were actually greater on the battlefield than in the hospital.

When the war ended in 1865, medical care had radically transformed into essentially the same system we use today.  Wounded soldiers recovered in the hospital, and most survived the war.

Four years that ushered in the age of modern medical care.  Four years of extraordinary innovation by ordinary people that changed the world.  Just four years.

This is what people are capable of when empowered to do what humans do best. They continually experimented and improved until soldiers stopped dying in their care.  They didn’t need guidance, oversight, or approval.  And they couldn’t wait for technology advancements.

That’s what innovation means.  Imagine what the people in your organization are capable of.

 

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