Right so I’m sitting in Gatwick airport, waiting invariably. I’m not alone though; everywhere there are edgy and anxious travellers that just want to get home. This anxiety leads us to share our sorrow (misery loves a friend, right?) and I’ve been venting with the chap next to me for around an hour now. I was in the mood for a chat and it turns out that he was too.
He started telling me about how he gave up a career as a Joiner, got a MA in History and is now working on a PHD. That caught my interest; not so much the subject (Slavery and Scottish plantation owners in the Caribbean, if you’re interested) and more his motivation to make such a huge lifestyle shift.
He said “I’d been doing the same thing for 20 years and it was fine but I just always knew there was something else I wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong mate, it’s been [censored] harder work than joinery. I find it so much more interesting than other controversial [World War II] history”.
Fair enough I thought. But it got me thinking about something I’d heard the previous day at the conference I was at – “what would you attempt, if you could not fail”. Think about that for a minute. This then got me thinking about a piece of history that resonates with me…
Back in 1937 a small research and marketing company was founded. Over the next 40 or so years it would grow to become a multi-billion dollar business and one of the most innovative and influential of its (and arguably all) time. The man responsible for this company has over 500 patents to his name, second only to Edison. He’s probably the only scientist to feature on the cover of both Time and Life magazine.
Naturally someone like this has been hugely quotable throughout his life and it’s difficult not to just simply list them all and finish typing. Anyway, he said: “Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible”. He was a genius, he was the Steve Jobs of his time (they did meet and Jobs was heavily influenced by him), he was Edwin Land the visionary behind the Polaroid Company.
So what is all this about then? Well firstly, having worked as a professional photographer on and off for 12 years (as life gets in and out of the way!) and much to my wife’s dismay a collector of vintage film cameras (at last count I had 17 Polaroid cameras) needless to say I’m a huge fan. Secondly, his principles of business and pure innovation and drive are an inspiration.
The only problem is how to apply any of this creativity and innovation to your own business environment? It’s about not being afraid of thinking outside your normal process, not necessarily coming up with new ideas, just not settling with the old ones. Our organisation is full of creative minds, people with real ideas on how things can be made better, we just have to give them the space to realise it.
OK, I know that my new gate 55F friend and I are highly unlikely to be the new Edwin Land or Steve Jobs but we can still do what we can in our own sphere of influence and that is what will get us to, and keep us at, the cutting edge of our industry.
So I challenge you again, “what would you attempt, if you could not fail”? What steps do you need to take? When do you need to start? Who needs to be involved?
Then, stop thinking about it and do it.