What’s in a Name?
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my recently published book, The Optimizer, Building and Leading a Team of Serial Innovators.
This week we’ll explore the power of emotions that hide behind and stall or derail change initiatives and innovation. An emotional response to ‘the new’ has been with us for centuries. Pretending it doesn’t exist is not the answer and fighting it is a path to irrelevance.
“Innovator!” the judge barked as he pounded the gavel down, “you shall be imprisoned and have your ears cut.”
English minister and devout Puritan, Henry Burton, was incarcerated for being seen as an innovator against the church in 1637. At the time, innovation was largely seen as pursuing practices outside of the church, leaning toward Roman idolatry such as tables, altars, robes, and bowing. Ironically, Burton was promoting conservatism but went too far in a 200-page pamphlet that he circulated in town, questioning the King’s authority under god. Innovation sparked fear in the power structure of England as it was seen as a gateway to “disturbing the peace” and refusing subjugation to the King.
It’s difficult to imagine a word that is highly relied upon for economic growth today was once so vilified.
England wasn’t the only culture that feared change and loss of power. Italian leaders had a similar reaction to change, not over a person, but a product: coffee. As coffee arrived in Europe in the 1600s, it was met with extreme resistance and deemed “The Devil’s Drink” by the Catholic church in an effort to the banish the beans. People feared it may become a substitute for current popular beverages, and it quickly became a focal point of energized gatherings; it changed social patterns and created a new way for citizens to hear news.
Control appeared to be shifting away from the church. Bishops wanted to put a stop to it and presented Pope Clement VIII with a cup of coffee, expecting his condemnation. To their surprise, he found it “so delicious” that he quickly baptized it. Shortly after, the first coffee house in Rome opened. Thankfully, the Pope was willing to explore a new idea before simply condemning it.
Bishops protested against coffee because it was new, disruptive, and seemed to reset the power structure.
Change brings powerful emotional forces: fear, loss, uncertainty, and shame. No one is immune.
In this case, leaders weren’t afraid of coffee; they were afraid of the loss of power and control. Pointing fingers is easier than solving real problems.
“Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort.”
Innovation endured a negative connotation for roughly three hundred years and was replaced by renovation, restoration, and reformation, words deemed less threatening. Austrian economist Joseph A. Schumpeter recognized the power of innovation for economic growth. Schumpeter, known as the “Father of Creative Destruction,” is credited as one of the liberators of the word innovation through his book Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical, and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process, published in 1939.
He stated, “Invention is the act of intellectual creativity and is without importance to economic analysis, while innovation is an economic decision: a firm applying an invention or adopting an invention.”
Even though “innovation” had been liberated, it still did not receive a warm welcome.
Change is always headed our way. Resistance is futile. We can either embrace it and face the ramifications it brings to us. As a leader you need to find a way to empower your team to join you in this journey.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Next week I’ll discuss the impact optimization can have on change initiatives to deliver the results you want.
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