The Coachable Innovator: Part Three

In the second post in this series, I argued that one person with vision, with purpose and intention, with a concrete plan and unshakeable resolve, and with a disciplined framework in which to bring that plan to fruition could consistently innovate. While EinFrame certainly is a framework, I wasn’t convinced I had the vision, the purpose and intention, the concrete plan, or the unshakeable resolve to actually innovate. But then I remembered an incident from my working past.

From the time I was 21 until I was 23, I drove a truck for a construction company that specialized in suspended ceilings. My responsibilities were to deliver materials and scaffolding to jobs as they were beginning and to pick up leftover materials and the scaffolding when the jobs were finished.

One day, I was sent to pick up stuff from a supermarket that had been renovated. In addition to installing new ceilings (and other things), the supermarket had replaced its skate wheel conveyor system with a power belt conveyor system. The sections of the skate wheel system were still there, ready to be junked. I immediately realized two things: First, the bundles of ceiling tiles I had to schlep still weighed 63 pounds apiece. Second, I still believed in gravity. I used both of those realizations to innovate.

Let it Roll

The invention of the wheel is most often credited to Ahmet (Gus) Öztürk, who lived in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Copper Age. But some historians credit Mrs. Öztürk, who, in response to Ahmet’s chronic laziness, used to tell him to get his ass rolling. While Gus beat me to the invention of the wheel by some 5,000 to 6,000 years or so, I nevertheless believed I could still come up some new and novel uses for the wheel, especially if a whole bunch of wheels were aligned in a track.

I loaded the sections of the skate wheel conveyor system on my truck, along with everything else I had to pick up. When I got back to the warehouse and lifted the overhead door of my truck, my boss, Bob, happened to be standing there. He saw the skate wheel sections.

“What are you going to do with those things?” Bob asked.

“Wrong question,” I said. “The right question is, ‘What aren’t you going to do with those things?’”

“Okay,” Bob said. “What aren’t you going to do with those things?”

“I’m not going to bust a gut humping those 63-pound bundles of ceiling tiles anymore.”

“Wow. That’s a great idea,” Bob said with what sounded like admiration. “Gus would be proud of you.”

“Aw, shucks,” I said, blushing.

Close But No Cigar

Okay. Maybe using that skate wheel conveyor to unload bundles of ceiling panels didn’t necessarily constitute innovation. But as my father loved to say, “It’s close enough for government work.” The point is that if you’re constantly creating new things — or if you’re constantly creating new uses for existing things — you’re getting closer to innovation than most folks ever get.

In my case, I had the vision, the purpose, the intention, and the unshakeable resolve to avoid having to lug those ceiling panels. I might not have had the concrete plan until I saw those conveyor sections. But four out of five ain’t bad.

Bob and Gus were proud. And that was enough for me.

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