A few often-stated truths about our economy:

  • The world is moving faster than ever before.
  • The world has grown more competitive than ever before.
  • The world is getting smaller than ever before.

This puts an amazing amount of pressure on organizations to innovate, to constantly stay ahead of competitors, to develop new products and new ways of doing business, to learn and adapt as fast as humanly and organizationally possible.  It’s not just occurring in our for-profit businesses; it’s happening at your local museum, at your favorite charity, at the school your kid goes to.  Heck, it’s evening happening in our families and churches.

Without getting into a debate about whether or not this need for speed is a good thing, let’s start with the idea that it is true and not going away anytime soon.

What can we do?

Our organization is no different—we must innovate or we will cease to be. One of our successful innovations is a remote-controlled loader—200,000 pounds of rolling yellow iron controlled by a tiny-ish remote.

We were looking for a way to maximize the amount of stone we were mining from one of our quarries—in a way that kept our people safe. Without going into a discourse in mine planning, geology, or the intricacies of mine development, trust me when I say it was a tough problem to solve.

Here’s what we came up with:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjfnQ2zqvhQ

It wasn’t a new idea—one of our managers tried to get one developed years ago—but at the time our culture and our leadership wasn’t developed enough to make it successful. They were a barrier to innovation, not a catalyst.

Years later, we had a vision of maximizing our product and of doing it safely. We had a committed bunch of people working collaboratively on the problem. We had a team who had the permission to make it so.  We had the resources in place to fund it.  We had the right relationships to help the team see it through. And we had the leadership champions in place to knock down the inevitable obstacles that popped up to stop it.

Innovation is not a fluke, it’s the outcome of people, technology, vision, and know how. It requires more than just a business plan, it takes a culture that can support it, and leaders with the courage to champion it.


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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