Innovation and your first kiss

First kissSome friends of mine recently went out to dinner to celebrate the anniversary of their first kiss – which, I think, is quite cute. Naturally, a first kiss is always something special and as business tends to parody life in its own (often perverse) way, I started thinking about the equivalent of a first kiss when it comes to business innovation.

The first kiss isn’t the end goal in a relationship. It might be the end goal of a first date with someone you fancy – but perhaps it’s actually a transitional point. It’s an indicator that this first date isn’t the end of the relationship but the start of the next stage of the relationship. It’s the I-want-to-see-you-again-and-I-want-more moment.

I’ll let you into a secret here. Nobody ever taught me how to kiss. It wasn’t a part of my school curriculum and neither was it a natural topic of conversation between my parents and I. So to my very first girlfriend (whose name I have embarrassingly forgotten), I apologise profusely for messing it up.

To me, the equivalent of a first kiss in business is when you ask a question that has never been asked before but which is actually a damn good question to ask. A question that won’t be easy to answer, but if answered well, has the potential to deliver huge value for the business. However, asking questions like this isn’t a part of human nature – and neither is it a natural part of business either.

The unfortunate thing is that when it comes to questions, we are actually taught to take the easy option. In an exam where you have a choice of questions, it’s always the best thing to choose the easier ones or the ones that you know how to answer. And this makes sense because when a lot is at stake, who is going to choose the harder options?

In the work environment we are generally expected to know the answers to any questions that arise as part of work. Let me give you an example here. If you went to your superior with a powerful question that you had no idea how to answer, which of these three responses are you most likely to receive:

  1. Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions
  2. You are expected to know the answers – this is what we pay you for
  3. I thought this was your area of expertise

Hardly the sort of incentive to be asking powerful questions is it?

If a business wants to do something innovative, it should be something that has a degree of difficulty to it. Why? Because when you successfully answer a hard question, it makes it harder for the competition to copy it. It also stops you doing the same-old, same-old stuff as well.

In the business environment, time is short. So it’s the easy option to ask questions that we know we can answer. Why make things hard for ourselves? We default to taking the easy option like in the exam at school. Yes, a lot is at stake, but is taking the easy option the best thing to do?

No, it isn’t! There comes a time when you have to do the hard thing if you want to move forward.

Remember the first kiss? I don’t know what it’s like for a girl, but for a boy it takes a lot of guts and nerve to go for the first kiss. Getting the right moment, the mood, the position – it’s actually a terrifying experience, especially as a smack in the face often isn’t too far away. But when it works, it’s really worth it!

So to trigger some innovative opportunities for growth, simply start by asking a bold, new question. Don’t worry about the answers at this stage. All you want to do is to get a good question and to get a few people to be interested in supporting that question as one that is well worth asking.

In the next post I’ll identify what makes a good first question for you, but in the meantime, pucker up and be ready to make your move…

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