Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Finding the Open Water

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

You can observe a lot just by watching.” - Yogi Berra

The morning lake was calm and disserted. This past weekend at our cabin a little less than an hour north of Minneapolis my family was enjoying a morning boat ride. The transitory July 4th crowd had not yet arrived. The only ripples in the water were formed by the wake of our craft.

As I captained our boat across the pane of watery glass I needed not worry about other boats. There was no one around. I was able to thoroughly enjoy the breeze in my hair without worry. I figured any floating birds in my path could easily fend for themselves.

Later in the day however, the lake was an entirely different scene. When I took my kids tubing after lunch there were boats of various shapes and sizes all about. It was a crowded affair. Piloting the boat now took much more active psychological effort. I had to avoid anchored boats, sporadic jet skis, and cruising speedboats, while simultaneously keeping an eye out for downed water-skiers and swimmers from other craft and hidden logs beneath the watery surface. Not to mention making sure I didn’t inadvertently leave my own kids stranded in the water away from our boat after not noticing they’d fallen off their tube. The water was much choppier from all the activity.

As we headed back to our beach after the tubing fun concluded, I continued to scan the water. This certainly wasn’t a monumental epiphany, but it occurred to me in that moment that our efforts to innovate require the same type of activity.

In our attempts to innovate, we obviously aren’t literally looking to avoid downed water-skiers or hidden logs, but the fundamental premise is similar. Innovation requires scanning. We must look left and right, near and far. Not simply to avoid some sort of organizational disaster or crash, but also to identify the open water into which we can explore and expand our businesses. Those that don’t deliberately and actively scan run the risk of a crash or missed opportunity, or worse yet, running aground.

The waters of innovation are crowded. A pane of care-free watery glass we do not ride.

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