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Innovation Church: The Tie That Binds
March 24, 2014 at 3:23 PM
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
– William Wordsworth
I spent several days in San Jose recently, participating in my firm’s Global Innovation Summit. It was a gathering of hundreds of innovation-minded folks from around the world, all gathered together to share insights and learn about innovation ecosystem building. I met and talked with entrepreneurs, corporate leaders of innovation, economic development experts, artists, private- and public-sector innovators, venture capitalists, and champions of social causes. There were magicians, wizards (no really, wizards!) illustration artists, jugglers. The sheer diversity of attendees was staggering.
I couldn’t help wondering what it was that brought such a diverse, talented and high-energy group together, across multiple time zones, geographies, cultures, languages and distances. What was the “tie that binds” that could hold the attention and energy and focus of such a mixed lot for days? I wasn’t sure.
On the last day, we played a short video of attendee interviews, filmed throughout the Summit. The purpose was simply to present an overview, a kind of tapestry of what individuals were thinking about, what their experience had been. It was intended as a celebration of shared experience, but –Lo and Behold! -buried in the video was the key to why everyone was there. One attendee was asked what she was learning at the Summit, what there was of value to this kind of gathering. Her answer was:
“This is innovation church.”
That sentence has captured my thinking for several days. It’s a powerful statement, an emotional declaration, and a potent thesis. It rings true, and it has the absolute authority of a belief that carries with it some critical implications, something beyond the pale. It speaks to critical cultural features, to powerful leadership values. It speaks to what is important in being, separated from the noise of doing. It speaks to me.
For any organization, for any individual who is trying to build value, for anyone who is out simply to do good work, to make a difference in the world, this sentence captures in four simple words all the things that need to be said about ritual, authenticity and values; about belonging to something; about finding value in those who share your values. It contains the secret to building powerful cultures, moving experiences and a sense of purpose.
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,” said the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth. And this may very well explain why organizations, and people, find themselves tired, off-kilter, unfocused, lacking in drive — why we in fact need an innovation church. We, and the organizations we lead, the goals we set, the things we strive for . . . all need something more than just “the world.” We need confirmation that we are in something for a reason, that what we do matters , and that other people see, understand and can speak to the importance of our work. Without this sense of purpose, of something bigger than ourselves, of something bigger and more important than the organizations we are part of, we are diminished. We are disconnected.
Think about your own time and effort, the culture and day-to-day values of the organization you are part of, and all the many things you do to achieve – what? Do you carry into your work a sense of reverence, a sense that beneath all the hubbub and noise of the world in operation there is something bigger than you? Do you feel, at the end of a long work day, that what you did mattered? Do you carry a sense of belonging with you into what you do?
Probably not every day. It’s hard to sustain inspiration, high creative energy, belief in self and possibility. It’s hard to be filled with purpose all the time. We find ourselves distracted by minutiae, drawn into the fuss and bother of doing. And then we forget to be. That’s why we need to be attentive to shared rituals, to the open expression of value systems, to the celebration of things bigger than ourselves; that’s why we need to create our own innovation church. We manage our organizations to ends, to achieve certain goals; we lead for other reasons. Our goals are not the why of our work, or rarely are. We don’t reach the end of our days celebrating one particular year’s particularly good ROI. Because that’s not purpose. That’s just a number. If we are lucky we reach the end of our days celebrating that we were part of something that mattered.
Innovation church – the shared experience of shared values — can help us see that there is something else, something infinitely more important than what we measure, what we track, what we do. It is mysterious, hard to describe; it is fuzzy. But when we come together in celebration of shared values, and in shared inquiry into how we can do things better, we know it, we can feel it, and we can experience other people experiencing it. If we’re lucky, our experience of that something will be deep enough and profound enough to carry with us back into the workaday world, and we’ll talk about something, even if it’s a bit of a struggle.
I think everyone at our gathering tapped into this something. I did. And the one thing I’m sure of now is that we should all make it a habit to seek out and attend our personal choice of innovation church.
- Henry Doss is a student, musician, venture capitalist and volunteer in higher education. His firm, T2VC, builds startups and the ecosystems that grow them. His university is UNC Charlotte.
I'm a former banker turned venture capitalist, musician and over-committed volunteer. My firm, T2 Venture Capital, is dedicated to building great start up companies, and leading the buildout of the ecosystems that cause them. My role is Chief Strategy Officer. I am deeply interested in how we learn about ourselves and the world, and how that learning translates into innovative business and educational leadership. I have an abiding curiosity about English Literature, physics, computing, and the Humanities in general. I also serve as Executive-in-Residence for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UNC Charlotte, where I indulge my interest in pedagogy, graduate studies in Early Modern Literature, and opining. And I'm a singer-songwriter wannabe.