Innovation of Business

and the
Business of Innovation™
The Zing! in Innovation

Exceptional Agents of Change

Have a few minutes for a story?  Great!

Back when I was doing my Ph.D. thesis, I gave papers at technical conferences around the country.  One night in San Francisco, I found myself heading out to dinner with a good friend named Ralph.

Now, we all know people like Ralph.  They change things.  One moment they are right here, predictable, in a clearly defined box, doing what we expect.  The next moment, they are somewhere else, beyond prediction, outa sight!

Yeah.  We know people like Ralph.  In our professions, in business, and in play.  They have a special talent, a way of sensing opportunity.  They don’t so much choose doors to open  They invent the damn doors.

Let’s see.  How can we say it?  It isn’t a matter of zig…  or zag....  It’s Zing!  It isn’t choosing a path through reality.  It’s creating a whole new reality.  That’s it!  Zing!  A change in reality.

Ralph knew how to zing!  And Ralph was in zing! shape that night on the town.  We entered the restaurant, and zing! … Ralph turned into the bar while I was still heading for the dining room.  Didn’t ask my opinion.  Didn’t get my permission.  He just changed my reality.  Zing!

By the time I caught up, Ralph already knew the names of the two women at the bar.  You can imagine the picture.  The women seated, us men standing, four of us chatting.  Getting to know each other.  Getting past those tough first encounters and down to testing tolerances.

And then Ralph zinged me again, more subtly.  He simply eased slightly to one side.  Before that move, we were four people talking.  After, we were two couples.  Ralph had made his choice.  My evening was suddenly up to me.

Of course, I had a partner in this effort, and her name was Karen.  Like me, Karen had some decision making to do.  Stay or leave.  When I hesitated, she started the conversation.  She was skilled at this business.  Really good!  I could sense that I was being evaluated, yet it was done with such friendliness that I quickly got over most of my shyness.

I relaxed.  Let down my defenses.  Became vulnerable.  To Karen’s credit, her sense of timing was perfect.  As soon as I opened up, she asked The Question.  Well.  OK.  First she set me up.  You know, like boxers do.   And then, pow!, she hit me with The Question.

“What do you do, Gary?”

(Hey this is easy.  Tune your ears for “Ooohs and Aaahs.”)  “I’m a scientist.”

Hmmm…  No oohs.  No aahs.  She’s just looking down at her drink.  Stirring it.  Around and around with her little straw.  Ice making that tinkling sound against the glass.  Uh oh!  Something’s coming!

“What is science, anyway?” she asked.

“What is science?  What…” I stammered.

Now let’s leave this set piece for a moment.  Gary in mid-gasp, and Karen in mid stir.  She sits there, calm, waiting, powerful.  She zinged him by questioning his professional identity.  His reality is changing, even as we watch!  What will he say?  How will he define science?

Think about it for a moment.  What would you say?  How would you define your profession?  Science?  Engineering?  Management?  Manufacturing?  Marketing?  Think about it!  Jot down a note or two.  I’ll give you a moment.

Now here is my bet.  No matter what your professions, I bet that all of your definitions have one thing in common.  That one thing is what Gary, over there, is about to discover.  So let me just slide back into myself.

“Um…  Science?  Science.  Science is, uh, … the artofredefiningtruth.

“What was that again?” she asked.

I admit, things were going so well that I briefly considered leaning over and whispering it into her ear, but instead, I took a deep breath and got loud.  “Science… is the art … of redefining truth.“

Oooh!  That sounds like fun.”

I did it!  I answered The Question.  I passed the test.  We had a great evening, and I never saw her again.

But I’d been zinged twice that night.  Ralph zinged me by looking for opportunities where I would have settled for ordinary.  Karen zinged me by looking for answers where I hadn’t even seen questions.

My job today is to zing! you.  We’ll start with my bet.  I defined science as “the art of redefining truth”,  and I bet you that my definition has something in common with how you define your profession.

Do you see it?  This is our common ground.  I defined science as a process of change.  In my case, “redefining truth” is the change process.  Now, think about your definition.  Your profession.  I’m betting that you defined your profession as a process of change.

No matter what our jobs are, all of our professional disciplines are processes.  And all of our processes create change.  You and I.  All of us and all of our colleagues across the country and around the world are agents of change.

We zing!  Each of us, in our own ways, in our own places.  We change reality!  Every day, in small ways and large.  We are all agents of change.

Think about that!  Really!  Think about it! 
That thought… will change… your life.

That’s a true story… from years ago.  Today we have a language for agents of change.  We call them innovators.  We love to ruminate about innovation.  We define it and characterize it in terms of customer satisfaction and competitive edge and brand equity.  We turn innovation into coursework in the many dozens of Institutes of Innovation and Entrepreneurship around the world.  We (mea culpa) write newsletters about it.

Yet with all of our progress, we can’t teach the Zing!  And today more than ever, the Zing! makes the difference.

Zing! delivers unexpected newness.  Delight and astonishment, all at the same time.  Zing! changes whole ways of thinking.  Whole paradigms of hows and whys.

We want Zing! so badly that we turn our businesses inside out to get it.  All to little avail.  No matter how hard we search, Zing! cannot be captured.  It lives in true agents of change.  In the orneriness of people who can’t stand the mundane.  In the dogged determination of teams to reset the standard so far out that the rest of humanity stops in awe, gasping at the audacity.

I can’t imitate my friend Ralph.  He is one of a kind.  I can only honor the difference he made in my life.

My wish for you is simple.  That you find Zing! in your life.  That you add something special to the change you deliver.  That you find yourself part of the creation of show-stopping novelty that truly changes lives for the better.  That you experience your own Zing!



34. If you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results. (Richard Feynman)

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