Fast Company

Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to the "Innovating with Meaning" Blog!

As the co-authors of the "Innovating with Meaning" Blog, we aim to share our perspective on how we have seen the discipline or field of Innovation Management evolve over the last decade and to where we believe the field will evolve, as well as share key lessons from our international best-selling books as they relate to these topics.  (As background, Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts, which focuses on how we can find deeper meaning in our work and everyday lives.  Elaine Dundon, MBA, is author of The Seeds of Innovation, which highlights numerous Innovation examples, as well as skill development in the key areas of creativity thinking, strategic thinking, and transformational thinking, each of which is critical, i.e., a core competency, for innovative thinking.).

As you know, Innovation Management is all the rage these days.  Having lead and participated in the emergence of this important field for the last decade, we have witnessed the transition from viewing Innovation as simply the commercialization of technology to a much broader perspective which encompasses Innovation in products, services, processes, and overall business and organizational strategies.

Global competition, the faster pace, and more demanding players all round have forced leaders to evaluate how they will lead and sustain Innovation. Never before has there been a greater need for strong leadership in the field of Innovation.

But we see many leaders struggling to truly lead their organization’s innovation agendas. We also see many leaders leading innovation for the sake of innovation. We see leaders embracing Innovation, then launching new products and services that really aren’t adding anything to the world or to the bottom line.

There is an overabundance of products and services from which to choose and many of these offerings are just duplications of what others are offering. Many new products and services, which are touted as innovative, don’t add any value or meaning in customers’ lives (to say nothing about the more broadly-defined "community of stakeholders").  Customers simply are not engaged.

Does the customer really want a new cherry flavor of your existing food product? Does the new food product you are offering help address the obesity problem or does it just add to the problem? Does the new paperwork system you introduced at your hospital really help simplify the process for your patients or does it just add more confusion? 

Is this happening in your organization? When you review your future, say 3 year, plans, are your innovations truly innovative and will they bring deeper meaning to your customers and employees?  Or are do they simply represent “lip service” to the overall trend of Innovation Management? In other words, are you truly “innovating with meaning?” We’d like very much to hear from you!

Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts (www.prisonersofourthoughts.com) and Elaine Dundon is author of The Seeds of Innovation (www.seedsofinnovation.com)

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4 Comments

  • Dr. Alex Pattakos

    Arnold, we are on the same wave length! The primary reason that Elaine and I are focused on "Innovating with Meaning" is that we want not only to be able to "sustain" innovation so that it is not simply a "one-off" initiative, but also (and more importantly) to ensure that innovation is doing the kinds of things that you have suggested. We don't, in other words, want to advance innovation for innovation's sake, or to foster innovation is that does not foster "meaningful" growth and does not make a positive difference in the world (including with an organization's customers, employees, partners, and broadly-defined community of stakeholders).

    Regarding your "pain" thesis, let us also draw your attention to the work of organizational psychologist, Kurt Lewin, who proposed three "strategies" for overcoming resistance to change:

    (1) Disconfirmation, that is, demonstrating that what we are doing is no longer working;
    (2) Anxiety and/or Guilt, that is, playing on either the anxiety or guilt (assuming that they are not sociopathic and have no conscience!) of people;
    (3) Creating a "space of psychological safety," that is, providing a venue for people to confront their fears, concerns, new ideas, etc., without repercussions.

    We've used, in one way or another, all three approaches, as we're sure that you have too, to move people, including groups/teams, forward. The bottomline, again, is that we've met the "enemy" and the enemy is us!

    I hope that other members of the FC "community" are listening and will participate in this conversation! Thanks again, my friend.

  • Arnold Beekes

    Thanks very much Alex. I am grateful for this synchronicity. Let me explain. By the way in my first comment I was inclined to ask you wheter you knew about Frankl's book....
    In line with your personal slogan I would say that innovation in itself is not a goal. The goal of innovation is to grow. And growth in the most widest connotation. So, not only profit, but also people and planet. Or to rephrase it: growth at a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level.
    Okay now back to the issue with leadership and innovation. I would say that it is the same problem as with personal change. Most people say that they want to change, but at the same time they are not willing to get out of their comfortzones. That is why nothing really changes. The same is true at a collective level in businesses, Everyone is talking about change, but nobody wants to get out of his/her comfortzone. Leaders want their employees to change and employees want their leaders to change. Both parties are convinced that they are doing fine and that there is no need to change for themselves. This is also part of the culture, 'the way things get done here'. Most leaders and managers did get their current positions because they showed the same baviour as their bosses. In other words being different and having a different opinion is not really stimulated.
    So, I would think that only when there is enough 'pain', whether on an individual or on a collective level, people will be open to real change resp. innovation and hence growth!

  • Dr. Alex Pattakos

    Thanks, Arnold, for your comment and questions. Insofar as our definition of "meaning" is concerned, I must say, up front, that I recommend that you read my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, for a detailed treatment of a very complex, and obviously, existential question. My meaning-centered work is based on the wisdom of my mentor, the world-renown psychiatrist and philosopher, Viktor Frankl. The search for meaning is the foundation of Dr. Frankl's approach to psychotherapy, known as "Logotherapy." I've built upon Frankl's work (by the way, with his permission and personal urging) by applying Logotherapeutic principles to work and organizations. In brief, Frankl's "will to meaning" can be differentiated from Sigmund Freud's "will to pleasure" and Alfred Adler's "will to power," two schools of thought that very much influenced Frankl's thinking. As I describe in Prisoners of Our Thoughts, the will to meaning, on a personal level, is the "authentic commitment to meaningful values and goals that only you can actualize and fulfill." On a collective level, there are also opportunities to realize the "will to meaning" on a shared basis. The most common way to achieve such shared meaning in a group context is through open and focused "dialogue." Authentic "dialogue," I should point out, contains the same root word, from the Greek, "logos," as in Frankl's word, "Logotherapy." Meaning, both on a personal level and on a collective level, is discovered, not created, through either inner dialogue or group dialogue. When the primary motivation of an individual or collective is either pleasure or power, we can discern that meaning is being sacrificed. Again, I highly recommend that you read my book for elaboration, clarification, and illustration of these concepts.

    Now, regarding the leaders who are struggling with the innovation challenge, your question would be better framed by asking who are the leaders who are NOT struggling! Our work for many years has firmly established that the goal of "innovation" is easier said than done. Moreover, the capability of, dare I say "most," leaders to sustain innovation beyond the initial "call" is still limited at best. Ultimately, we believe, everyone is "responsible" for innovation on some level. Many years ago, an executive at HP told me that innovation is not a technological challenge for the organization, it was (and still is) a "sociological" challenge.

    I apologize for my apparent "rambling," but you have posed some very important questions! Thanks again!

  • Arnold Beekes

    Excellent article, Alex.
    What is your definition of 'meaning'?
    And who are these leaders who are sruggling? Who is now responsible for innovation and who should it be?