Innovation insights from a Kryptonian

The essential challenge for organizations these days; is to get the minds of their employees to take flight.

July 01, 2013 6:45 IST | India Infoline News Service

Superman is back! Those who thought that the man of steel franchise was creaking at the joints; need only take note of how tickets have vanished faster than speeding bullets, and audiences have leapt over tall traffic jams in a single bound, to get to theaters.

But today’s corporate battles are fought in the boardrooms. Scarce, if any, hostile threats loom in alien spacecraft.

The essential challenge for organizations these days; is to get the minds of their employees to take flight. So how does the mythology of someone for whom flying is almost second nature, inspire ideas when it comes to the quest for innovation?

As usual the man of steel does not disappoint…

The merit of an outsider’s perspective

Superman is from a distant planet Krypton. What makes his story endearing, is the manner in which he embraces his adopted planet, and becomes its selfless protector. Almost symptomatic of the epochal American story itself. Superman perhaps represents one of the all-time great popular cultural examples, of why it makes so much sense to welcome immigrants with open arms.

Organizational groups working within certain specialized domains; do tend to get blinkered by the paradigms of their own fields. Sometimes the viewpoint of an ‘outsider’-or someone who comes from another area of expertise, is just what is needed to ignite fresh thinking. Edwin Land’s young son’s innocent query of ‘why he could not see his picture instantly’; changed the prevalent conversation in the imaging industry, and led to the invention of the Polaroid camera. As one can see, the influence of an ‘alien’ outlook, might just lead to an out of the world idea.

The traction of a changed environment

Had Superman stayed on Krypton, he would have been as commonplace, as a pothole on the Mumbai roads during the monsoons. Cataclysmic events propelled him earthwards, and its yellow sun and lighter gravity, endowed him with almost God like qualities. Krypton’s zero was recast as our world’s greatest hero.

Just because an idea fails in one particular context or environment; that does not mean it has no value. History is littered with examples of inventions which began as something else, only to find fame when they were revisited under changed conditions or in different domains. Interestingly Viagra started out as a drug to regulate blood pressure. Changing the intended application, seeking another consumer group, evaluating another time period to reintroduce the product; are just some of the initiatives that corporate think tanks can brainstorm over, before they decide to dub the current innovation a dud.

The need to establish a dual identity

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Superman story; is how he manages to switch between the colossal persona of a super hero, and find some moments of sanity, as the mild mannered news reporter Clark Kent. The unsuccessful efforts of the others, to unravel where Superman disappears to in between times of gargantuan crises, has always provided for lighter diversions, in an otherwise adrenaline infused franchise.

And this facet also informs white collar leaders about their lives as such. Often the job becomes all consuming. This not only is unhealthy, it also brings staleness to their thought process. Not having an alternate world to escape to, and borrow interesting concepts from, is absolute anathema to the creative thinking process. Briefly making a journey to that hobby or passion, only to return with renewed vigor to the challenge at hand, could help inject managers with super perspective.

The appreciation of one’s weakness

The Superman legend could have been a rather lopsided tale of overwhelming overachievement; but for his weakness to Kryptonite-radioactive debris from his destroyed original world. Kryptonite makes the mighty Superman human, and hence far more relatable.

When a great idea emerges, often the organization is blinded by its allure. Teams close to developing it, like doting parents, can only see its good qualities. But someone needs to take on the onus of playing the Devil’s advocate. Knowing where the idea can fail, and being aware of what its shortcomings are; are essential mindsets that corporate think tanks need to embrace. Eventually the Superman saga does show that even the mightiest of concepts, can have their proverbial ‘Achilles Heel’s’.

All in all, perhaps Superman paints a vivid metaphor, for what we can all be. It is time we shed the gravity of our cerebral inhibitions, and got our minds to take flight. It would be really nice to see the next corporate brainstorm, begin with these immortal words, ‘Up, up and away!’

The writer is an independent trainer in creative thinking and a brand consultant. He is also the author of ‘The Madness Starts at 9’. 

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