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Innovation Requires Bold Courage

Author: Mark Dixon
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
12:33 pm

At Sun Microsystem’s Customer Engineering Conference, Sun Vice President Hal Stern proposed that courage was essential for innovation. His challenge seemed particularly relevant as we seek to thrive amidst challenging times.

I enjoy exploring the meanings of words, so I turned to Dictionary.com for assistance as I pondered this concept:

  • Innovate: “to begin or introduce something new”
  • New: “of a kind now existing or appearing for the first time”
  • First: “being before all others with respect to time”

Basically, innovation demands that we do something before anyone else does it – before “best practices” are known, before markets are proven, before all the “gotchas” have been experienced. To those who try to innovate, there always seems to be an abundance of people who point out potential pitfalls, pose a host of reasons things won’t work and warn of impending doom.

In a Sun sales training conference last August, a featured speaker, Robert Kriegel, called this oppressive phenomena the “firehose principle” – where naysayers always seem to appear with virtual fire hoses to douse the emerging flame of any new idea … which brings us to a second essential word – Courage.

  • Courage: “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear”
  • Danger: “liability or exposure to harm or injury; risk; peril”
  • Fear: “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined”

Because fire hosers seem always to emerge in opposition to new ideas, we must cultivate a courageous quality of mind or spirit that will enable us to face opposition without fear.  Then we can innovate.

In another recent dictionary discovery session, I found that “Valiant” means “boldly courageous”.  I think that is the type of courage Hal Stern challenged us to foster.  This is not a call for rose-colored glasses or intellectual dishonesty, but it is the type of courage that drives us to overcome obstacles, find answers to tough questions, fight the opposition and persevere to win.

In these troubled times, we at Sun need that type of bold courage.  We need to leverage our culture of innovation, not just in technology, but in business practice and personal performance, to conquer the fire hoses and deliver results.

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