Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'm Not Crazy, I'm a Relentless Innovator

It just occurred to me how to describe myself. Of course, it took someone smarter than me to help me put the words together. I just finished reading Don Berwick's funny, intriguing and enlightening piece "Sauerkraut, Sobriety and the Spread of Change" from his collection of speeches entitled Escape Fire, which, by the way, may possibly be the most accessible and brilliant book EVER about how to improve healthcare quality in the US. But that's another review.

In my LinkedIn profile I used to identify myself as a "Social Entrepreneur and Technologist." I think the first half of that is right, or at least the right spirit. But the second half, "Technologist," isn't. While I do have a love of technology and a personal fetish for electronic gadgetry and assorted gizmos, I don't love technology for its own sake in organizations. In fact, from my business development experience in the internet industry, during the heyday of the dotcom boom (and thankfully, only a little of its bust) for a number of years, I'm actually suspicious of technology for its own sake in the business environment. What I realized I really love is innovation in business, using technology or other resourcefulness to do things better than they've been done before. Taking the tools given and either refining them or turning them upside down to improve them.

What I realized from reading Dr. Berwick's speech, is that in every organization I have ever been in, I have been a tireless agitator for innovation, to varying degrees of success. It was his description (with a great deal of reference to Everett Rogers' work, Diffusion of Innovations, which I'm ordering from Bookpeople tonight) of how innovators succeed or fail within organizations that is beginning to help me truly define my calling. I have always thought I had an innovator streak in me; various personality tests often point out innovation specifically and creativity generally, but it was understanding when I have failed at innovation was what really brought this home to me. A few characteristics of innovators that really hit me over the head:

  1. "Innovators tend to be wealthier than average or to have special circumstances that give them enough slack to accept the risks inherent in innovating."
    OK, that first part is definitely NOT me these days, especially with a 3 year old to take care of, but I suppose that I have had special circumstances, both financial and otherwise, that have given me the opportunity to do some innovation: starting a non-profit in New Orleans or jumping into public health and informatics when I had no formal training in either field.

  2. "Locally, they tend to be a little socially disconnected."
    I usually try to describe (spin?) this as "I don't do office politics."

  3. "They are not opinion leaders; in fact, they may be thought of as weird or incautious."
    Story of my life. I tend to scare the conservatives in every organization because of my enthusiasm for a great idea. I used to make some of my bosses feel insecure until I became aware of this trait and worked to assure them that rarely did I ever want their jobs. And if I did, I told them so and committed myself to getting them promoted.

This all hit me over the head about 20 minutes ago and I'm going to embrace it, blog it and change the words I use to describe myself. I might rethink the excitement of all of this and remove the post from my blog, but for now, I feel like I just figured out something important that needs to be said. I am a social entrepreneur and relentless innovator. I feel like I just came out of the closet or something.