Is it really THAT impossible to do?

I love the intensity, energy and possibilities that I can describe when I am doing any keynotes, learning sessions or coaching conversations.

And invariably the subject of innovation is a key part of that.  How we can innovate our way out of predicaments we find ourselves in as a leader, a team, an organisation, a sector and even as a country.

There’s the inevitable thirst for others who’ve done stuff: Who out there is innovating and showing what’s possible, proving that things can be changed and making good on their innovation into successes of whatever denomination.

Then this question ALWAYS comes up

“Well that’s all well and good for them, they are small / started like that / have no other pressures” and sometimes all of those in a salvo of despair that “it won’t work like that for us”.

Yes, I know, 80-odd people in a super cool office in Michigan isn’t your 20,000 strong pharma company.  Yes I know the 500 coders across 5 cities isn’t your 9,000 person manufacturing organisation.  And yes I know that the 9,000 nurses operating in the Netherlands isn’t the entire NHS.

So I could say: “Oh well, yes, that’s not useful, let’s forget it then.”  Or I invariably say: “Well, your 20,000 people are made up of lots of units of 80 people, so maybe you could try one of those to see if you can get some innovative thinking flying in just one team?”

I’m sure people say “glib so-and-so” or “what does he know about the entrenched mindsets across those 20,000 people in my company…”.  And they’re right.  It’s unlikely that I do have that experience and haven’t lived it like they have.

And then again, I’m not tarnished by their years of blocked doors to innovation. I’m not de-energised by their attempts at trying to get something going.  And I’m also not deterred by size, scale and complexity.  I see that as a challenge.  But then I would if I’m not dragged down by the prevailing culture of “it’s all so hard here…”.  And it probably is, I’m sympathetic to that.

I’m also a believer that SOMETHING is always better than NOTHING.  DOING is always a good way to bring THINKING to life.  STARTING is always better than NOT.

I’m sure my examples aren’t THAT helpful when looked at in the scale of 80 to 20,000.  Yet my examples are there to illustrate a key trait of mine and others: the art of the possible and being a possibilist.  A what?  Yes a possibilist is a thing.  Not just an optimist, or a pessimist or even a realist  – but a possibilist.  Believing in the possibility of something taking shape, getting going, making a difference.

A possibilist has a set of traits that have been identified by supremo trend spotter and innovative mind Magnus Lindkvist.  He’s studied how companies plot their way to the future and concluded that a possibilist mindset is helpful.

How possibilists see the world is like this:

  • Not being caught in the “prison of the present” – they are unshackled from existing orthodox thinking
  • They don’t fall into narrative traps – like the classic – “that hasn’t ever worked here…” or “we don’t think like that.” Well, what if it could work THIS time and what if people changed their thinking just a little bit…?
  • They don’t conform to either being a pessimist or an optimist – there is this third way, being a possibilist is neither of those and both of those at the same time.
  • Be a contrarian. In order to get some different thinking going, you may have to be the one that swims against the school.  The deviant and the rebel.
  • You choose your advisors wisely. You bring in people who aren’t just like you and those who are energisers in ways you’re not.
  • You expand horizons. Instead of viewing the canvas as the only place to paint, you take up the whole wall space and even the windows.
  • You don’t hide in the sanctuary of nothingness – where nothing is challenging, then maybe everything is comforting and that’s OK but hardly enables progress.

So my urge for innovation at scale is to start with big thinking and small acts.  Then be and find more possibilists.

Be part of a chain reaction to the possibilities that what works in start-ups might just work in your place if you create the right conditions and the timing is right now but wasn’t then.  That possibilities are there to learn from and with and doing something may reveal new possibilities that hadn’t previously become clear.

A possibilist is a creator: What you create and the scale of it. might depend on others being similarly possibilistic in their ways.  It may only take one leap to breach the surface of a seemingly insurmountable feat.

You could be the possibilist to make that leap.