When a year ends, I tend to say “thank you,” and note that I’m grateful for it to end, as I remember the struggles and the triumphs. 2020 was one that we all were grateful to put behind us. 2021 came and went fast, like a car accident. We still may have memories of it, but when it occurred, it left us in shock.
As innovators, what can we gain from these experiences — and how do we apply them to our coming year? I cannot say that I’ve ever had New Year’s resolutions from an innovator’s perspective. Until now. I’ve chosen to frame my next year as an innovator using resolutions as a lens.
This year, here is what I will try to achieve:
Resolution 1: I am the only one who will waste my time.
Time has become my only currency of contemplation. I will not waste it with others who take it away from me without the grace of a returned gift. I’ve discovered that I give my time out of courtesy, obligation, and many times a sense of politics; that is, because it would be bad to say no for the future. Being an avoider of conflict, I tend to agree to meet, or engage in sessions just “because.” I resolve that wasting time will only be for me to waste.
Time has taught me to be more discerning. Not rude — just discerning and honest about choices made.
Hence, if I chose to eat bonbons and binge watch shows all night, that will be my prerogative. If I added up all those who have asked for a few minutes and taken hours without any regard for me, it would be years. But we chose this for our career to help others formulate their future direction, or help them make better choices. My former colleagues used to say that I had chairs in my office to be their counselor. Looking back, it was good to help and be helped. But now, time has taught me to be more discerning. Not rude — just discerning and honest about choices made.
Resolution 2: Don’t take stray puppies home unless you know your responsibility.
In my innovation team, we had the opportunity to coach hundreds of teammates new to innovation. Many reacted positively and grew, but others challenged us daily, and fought our approach with no regard to the gift we were giving them. We would meet and talk about them and how we could coach them to become their best innovation selves. Yet it would drain my team; they were working to serve others who thought themselves better.
Earlier in my career, I thought I was there to transform leaders and grow them. Later in my innovation career, I realized that it would take less to train the willing than to convince the unwilling. So I coined the phrase, “Don’t take the puppy home unless…” Puppies are adorable, and they create the temptation to adopt them, but they do take time, love, energy — and they bite you if they are unwilling. Committing to taking one home is good, but make sure it’s the one that gives you energy — rather than consuming it. In innovation, your choices make you, and if you are compassionate about the stray ideas and you fall in love too soon, you may also go astray.
Later in my innovation career, I realized that it would take less to train the willing than convince the unwilling.
Resolution 3: Spend time with cherished business relationships, because they will leave.
I have known Professor Bala Balachandran for over 24 years, and in those years we spoke to each other almost every week, discussing our dreams, our ambitions to work together, and to find the sweet spot of career and joy that we both dreamed of. He accomplished an amazing life and career by teaching at the Kellogg School of Management, where he invited me to be an adjunct professor. Then, Covid hit, and we could not engage in our travels and our plans to make things happen. We were beginning a book together, and finally, after all these years, we had the time to frame our future together as colleagues. He passed away four months ago, and as I was leaning over his coffin looking at this very kind and accomplished man, I realized that one day more with him would have been wonderful. As innovators, we must recharge with other innovators who share our principles and values. So spend time with those people, and not others who drain your innovator energy.
As innovators, we must recharge with other innovators who share our principles and values. So spend time with those people…
Resolution 4: Accomplish what you want, not what others expect of you.
Innovators have objectives for the companies they serve, but they also have dreams for themselves. You are creative, and you express your creativity in many ways. But when you are a student of innovation at work, work takes all your energy and your focus. But you are powered by your dreams, and make sure that those have traction as well. Mine is music. I’ve not played my music and performed for a very long time. That will begin very soon. This year, the music will free me.
Resolutions 5: You are your own witness; forget the camera.
Innovators are performers, and like the magicians of the era, we like to show what we have accomplished. We thrive on recognition or acknowledgement. Yet lately, I find that I have become my own best witness to my achievements. “If a tree falls in the forest” arguments have left my considerations. It does not matter if anyone is watching when I have done good, because I have seen it.
These are only my resolutions. I wrote them down because I’ve realized that innovators share a bond of common courage, craft, and connectedness. In future columns, I plan to elaborate on all these five resolutions to bring about dialog among us. And in 2022, togetherness is my theme. With that, let’s all pursue innovation for the greater good.
Mohan Nair, CEO of Emerge Inc., is regular guest columnist at IL. He is a three-time corporate executive, three-time startup CXO, seven-time corporate startup founder, and three-time author who has led innovation teams for over 10 years. (Featured photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash.)