Innovation…the word evokes promise, hope, and excitement. For some industries and cultures the drive to innovate is in their DNA. The thrill of bringing a new service or product to benefit people drives growth and reward. At the other end of the spectrum are people who find innovation to be scary, nerve racking and risky. Still others adopt innovation cautiously but are still earnest in their commitment to do so. Innovation is challenging because it is risky. Yet, risk is mitigated by one simple but not easy value…integrity.
My father, a quality assurance engineer and an inventor, often talked about the importance of integrity. He often said to me, Andrea, “Integrity is everything. No matter how talented you may be, unless you are a person with integrity, you have nothing.” My father tested products that saved people’s lives. Because he was often the last check between a product’s manufacture and its use, he took his role and his integrity very seriously. As an entrepreneur and businessperson, I found integrity to be critical in building a strong business, developing powerful relationships and delivering measurable results.
In the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that integrity is also essential to fostering innovation. I have known for some time that courage is necessary for innovation. However, I had never before contemplated the relationship between the two. The combination of both values develop an environment friendly towards change. Courage is the willingness to take a risk. Integrity reduces the risk. To reduce innovation’s risk, variables must be reduced and uncertainty stabilized. That stability occurs due to integrity. When all parties have integrity, the risk rests only in the novelty or uniqueness of the innovation itself. Integrity strengthens the assurance that the acknowledged risks are predictable.
Risks may rest with the technology, the people, the timing or the finances. After all, new solutions and new technology are comprised of all these components. Ultimately, though, it is people who invent and deploy solutions and technologies. By building trust based on integrity among people, it encourages people to develop a common objective. If something goes wrong, integrity allows all parties to scratch their heads, de-personalize the situation, and look at the data.
People in the most innovative industries are able to move nimbly and quickly because they have built relationships with vendors, people, and colleagues they trust. Innovation almost certainly means adjustment, failure, unexpected results, and unintended consequences. By working with trusted advisors, colleagues, and vendors, the risk is lowered and success more likely. People who embrace innovation must rely on integrity to reduce risk and build it into their work plans and decision-making. As I continue to innovate, I will continue to value my father’s advice and consider integrity, as well as courage, essential to successful innovative projects.