"Persistence, blind faith, stubbornness, obliviousness to reality—call it what you like, it is a necessity....
Head in the direction you wish to arrive.
– Lois McMaster Bujold. American author
The point for innovation
Innovation teams are humans. They lose their way like anyone else. It's easy to get side-tracked and flit from one shiny penny to the next without real, let alone "must-do" purpose. We must hold on to our direction.
Yes, yes we do. But it's easy to become a slave to the pivot, to A/B tests and data. In other words, it's easier in practice than in theory to confuse agility with lack of purpose.
Be flexible on the "how" but persist on the "why"
We need a clear and stable purpose. Where we pivot is mostly on the "how," and a little bit on the "what" of our work. But this, the "why," must remain stable or we are just squirreling pointlessly. (I also call this clarity of where we are and stability on where we need to head the "Law of the Runway Lights." More on that another day. Lois McMaster Bujold says it beautifully here anyway.)
This is especially true in corporate innovation, where the work we do somehow has to make sense in relation to what already exists. If our purpose shifts too much, our work may no longer make sense in the context of our parent organization.
(As a side bar: Startups may have a little more flexibility here, since they typically can head in any direction, though a totally purposeless startup also seems like a poor way to invest money, IMHO.)
Personally, I really appreciate Lois McMaster Bujold's very literal advice on the components it may take to achieve a must-do purpose:
"Persistence, blind faith, stubbornness, obliviousness to reality...."
If you and your team are just a little bit quirky and oblivious to reality, take heart. It may just be a good thing and bring you closer to pursuing a "must-do" purpose that matters.
Be stubbornly purposeful, not stubbornly obnoxious to those around you
That said, also beware the opposite problem–confusing clarity of purpose with rigidity or stubbornness.
I kept Lois McMaster Bujold's quote short above. But if you were to continue to read on to the following sentences, you'd see that she is not endorsing being a curmudgeon or bull in the china shop:
... Head in the direction you wish to arrive.
Don’t divert or divide yourself for a degree in English (unless you want to be a teacher) or articles for the local paper (unless you want to be a journalist). You become a fiction writer by writing fiction.
Her point clearly is to know your purpose and trust that purpose. She's not suggesting that you should be an arrogant pain-in-the-you-know-what.
In the real world of corporate innovation, I see such misguided interpretation of blind faith turned into rigidity most often in the form of "innovation orthodoxy." That's my word for teams who place excessive value on some "right" process, and some "right" way one should pretty much "always" do things, instead of on adopting what works and fits the situation at hand.
We are hoping to reach good outcomes, not create some odd new religion. Take things that work from wherever you might find them.
So: Be clear on and aim steadily for a north star that actually means something, a "must-do purpose." Pivot on the approach as needed. But hold on to goals in which you believe!
by Lois McMaster Bujold
NESFA Press (1995)
Bujold, L. M. (1997). Dreamweaver’s Dilemma: Short Stories and Essays. NESFA Press. http://books.google.com/books?id=q6YFAAAACAAJ&hl=&source=gbs_api
Ries, E. (2011). The Lean Startup. Crown Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=r9x-OXdzpPcC&hl=&source=gbs_api