Last April, I planted a bag of bulbs. I read and carefully followed the directions. I watered them regularly and waited for them to come up. And waited. And waited. Nothing. Finally, I went to the grower’s website and double-checked. Yes, I had done everything correctly. May passed. June passed. Still nothing.

Finally, in mid-July, I wrote to the grower. Their response surprised me. Apparently, these Caladiums are tropical plants. They do not bloom until there have been sustained 85-90 degree temperatures. (Hmmm, it did seem like a bit of a stretch for Costco to be selling these in Chicago!)

Checking, I could see we were in for some very warm weather. The very next week, the shoots suddenly popped up. They shot up quickly and the leaves promptly unfolded. The speed of growth was truly amazing!

The lesson for me was more than one of horticulture:

  • Set yourself up by choosing good seeds (ideas) that are likely to flourish in your climate (culture).
  • Plant and tend them well.
  • Recognize that some trigger may also be needed for them to be able to really take off.
  • Be patient and watch for—or, if possible, create—the right conditions. Then, when the conditions are right, they are likely to thrive.

Create Conditions for Successful Innovation

This lesson has specific relevance for innovators and would-be innovators. It’s important to start with good research, ideas, planning, and execution. AND sometimes the ground needs to warm up before the new idea will take hold.

As with the tropical bulbs, some outside forces or change may also be required before the idea can burst forth in successful execution. (Sometimes the shift that allows a new idea to take off is unpredictable. Who would have thought we’d be typing with our thumbs?)

Taking this further, look for steps you can take to create and foster the right conditions for an innovation to take hold. Innovators are often told they’re crazy or worse, especially in the early stages when the ground isn’t yet ready. For instance, the premiere of Stravinksy’s revolutionary ballet The Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913 was met with catcalls and near riots. Then, less than a year later, after a concert performance, the crowd cheered and carried Stravinsky on their shoulders out into the street as a hero! Under the baton of the same conductor, but in a different venue, with adjusted expectations, and without the distraction of the additionally-controversial dance moves, the piece’s reception was much different. It has subsequently become a staple of modern orchestral repertoire.

To increase the likelihood others will embrace your new idea or innovation:

  • Be Prepared for Resistance. New ideas often meet resistance from “the establishment”—those with an interest in maintaining the status quo, fearful of the unknown, or just unable to understand the idea in the present. Don’t take criticism of the idea personally.
  • Build Support: Begin by building support from others who have a natural interest in your idea and those who stand to benefit from it. Within that group, look for respected, influential “Opinion Leaders.” Scout out credible “Early Adopters” who might be willing to try and get behind your idea. Ask them for input. Listen to and consider their feedback.
  • Make It Familiar. Connect your idea to what is already known and understood. Use an example or create an analogy. For instance, automobiles were first known as “horseless carriages.” If appropriate, cite an association with a known person or organization; a testimonial from a respected person or use by a successful organization can give an idea a big boost.
  • Minimize Risk. Most new ideas involve some level of risk. Consider how you might eliminate all or part of it. If risk can’t be eliminated, consider how it could be minimized, made insignificant, or turned into an opportunity. Consider low-cost ways to try your idea out. For example, consider creating and testing a prototype with targeted customers or promoting it with a money-back guarantee.
  • Learn and Adjust: Not all obstacles can be anticipated. Take action and evaluate the results. Make adjustments and then take further action. Be willing to be surprised by your learning. Many important discoveries have been made while their discoverers were looking for something else!
  • Be Persistent. What is clear to you may not immediately be so to others. You may need to make adjustments and repeat your pitch to be understood and overcome resistance. Or, as with the Caladium bulbs, you may just need a few more warm days

Find More Articles on Creativity and Innovation  in Leaders Lab: 66 Ways to Develop Your Leadership Skill, Strategy, and Style

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