Yesterday I was speaking to a university class and, as it usually does, a question about innovation came up.
"How do you stay innovative? How do you encourage innovative thinking at work?"
My answer: You don't stay innovative and you don't encourage innovative thinking at work.
Innovation should almost never happen. It's incredibly rare. It mostly happens by accident, not by intention. It's wonderful when it does, but you merely fluctuate in and out of it, it's not steady state.
Work is mostly mundane. It's mostly maintenance. It's mostly local improvement and iteration. Work is mostly... Work. Any innovation is an outlier, nearly a rounding error.
Even the most innovative projects or products are full of rote, prosaic stuff that still needs building. The poetic magic may be in the 5%, but the bulk of the work is in the other 95.
So I told the students they'd better get used to that. Work is not often very exciting, but it can absolutely be fulfilling. And you can be excited about that. But if you're expecting breakthroughs all the time, riff sessions that constantly lead somewhere new, or brainstorms that shoot lightning, you're going to be disappointed.
Yes innovation happens. Occasionally. Being happy at work is about finding challenge, reward, growth, and creative and intellectual stimulation in everything else.
Now... back to this new product we're building.