Last month, I went to a talk at the Rotman’s (University of Toronto) Design Thinking Expert Series (their Dean, Roger Martin, is well-known to be an influencer who brings business and design-thinking under one roof). The speaker was Knoll’s President and COO Lynn Utter.
Aside from giving out little nuggets on functional business philosophy, Utter is an engaging speaker who is heavily informed by the design thinking discipline. I found resonance with her presentation when she said “focus on your core competency”.
x social innovation
Utter’s quote was a response to a question from the audience about how to keep the design process pure, and she gave an example to illustrate the importance of staying authentic: She said many people have asked why Knoll does not design furniture that can embed technology within it, as this seems like a rising trend for the furniture business. Her answer was simple – Knoll specializes in manufacturing, not technology.
So what about innovation?
I think there’s a difference between innovation that stems from your core values, insights and hence, vision, compared to creating simply because we don’t want to get left behind. The latter gives rise to, at the very minimum, a loss of identity – what do you truly specialize in? What are you really creating that can be said to be innovative? …What do you value?
I take Utter’s quote one step further by integrating a sense of self-care and self-respect. To stay authentic is such a simple principle to hold, but I find that it easily looses integrity and authenticity very quickly. For business and in life, we seek the outside world for approval, praise and a sense of identity. We adjust our goals, intentions and even our values to follow trend and to seek relevance with others around us. Unfortunately, as it should be, the outside world is of constant change. Therefore, to base our happiness and actions within a space where we have no control over – even when we pretend we can enforce control on our work and the people around us – is a fruitless and destructive way of life. True, timeless and authentic innovations follow a different script.
When you focus on what you’re good at, and innovate from a space of vision instead of being a follower, you become the game –changer.
You create an entirely new game.
And, along the way, you will also create yourself.