Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sometimes You Have to BANG on the Door


Recently my significant other and I decided to see how well we could survive with only one car.  We made this decision for a variety of reasons but the whole idea was facilitated by easy access to public transportation (i.e. the bus) for my commute to work each day.  

My initial bus rides were met with both a fun spirit of adventure ("look at me...taking the bus !"), and anxiety.  Most of my anxiety centered on catching the bus on time each day. After years of not wearing a watch, I now needed one.  

I'm not writing this blog to convince you to take the bus (although if you have the opportunity, I'd suggest trying it for a week). Rather, I wanted to share an observation with you, something I witness time and again at the bus stop every day.  I call it "banging on the door".

So here's how it works: each day at the downtown 5th Street transfer station, up to three busses may pull along the curb in a linear fashion at any time, in any order.  People unfamiliar with catching the bus at this transfer station are inclined to stand by the first bus in the line and wait.  They wait patiently; assuming that once the first bus has loaded up and driven away the next bus will pull forward and take its place. The trick you learn early (and often the hard way) is that no matter where your bus is in the line, when the traffic light facing the busses turns green, they ALL immediately begin to drive away.

Most new riders realize their mistake as they watch the veteran riders hustle to other busses in the line.  However, by the time they start to walk toward their bus the driver is getting ready to pull away and the door to the bus is closed.  Many times I’ve witnessed eager passengers who are successful in moving down the line to their bus, become too timid to knock on the door to get the driver’s attention.  The bus they've been waiting for pulls away without them.  This is followed by the sadly bewildered, "But I was standing right here! Why didn't the driver open the door?"  

So what does this have to do with anything innovation-related? Too often, people miss their bus (opportunity) because they wait for the driver to take notice and allow them to board.  They don't bang on the door to say, "Hey, I'm here!" to catch the driver's attention.

Making that effort to get noticed and be heard...yes, even if it requires banging on the door, is sometimes necessary.  It may not be comfortable and it may seem dangerous.  But that's risk.  That's life.  Because guess what?  You may show up at the right place at the right time, but the myopic system of habit and drudgery will keep those doors closed and that bus moving....and you're left standing at the curb inhaling fumes.

If you want to embrace progress and propel ideas forward, you need to step up, be brave for a minute, and bang on that door. The alternative makes you late for the next part of your life.


About the Author

Dr Delony Langer-Anderson is a new product developer and technology platform specialist for 3M Company. She has a PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX. Her passion for creating new products is focused on connecting relevant 3M technology platforms with consumer needs that have been identified through ethnographic research.  When she's not in the field observing consumers, she's guiding and mentoring other 3M teams through the murky pre-NPI discovery phase.  Her most recent career highlight was winning the elected position of 3M Tech Forum Chair, a position that placed her at the head of the 3M 10,000 person global technical network. She may be reached at dlanderson@mmm.com. 

She will co-present a session on Innovation Foraging: Finding the Next Big Idea in a Corporate Jungle at FEI 2013 taking place May 6-8, in Boston, Massachusetts.

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