Innovating your life

Innovating Your Life

After delivering a keynote at United Technologies yesterday, I have a welcome moment of rest – 45 minutes in a coffee shop with jazz and hisses of cappuccino as my backdrop before I head out to facilitate our Chief Strategy Officer roundtable at BNY Mellon.

We can learn much by applying to our personal lives strategic concepts that were designed for business. Yesterday, presenting to a room full of learning and development leads from places like Boeing, Lowe’s, UTC, and American Express, we dug into the “Intrapreneurial Intensity” (II) framework. It basically says that you can measure the II of any company across two dimensions:

  1. How frequently do you act innovatively?
  2. To what degree are your actions innovative?

These dimensions give you four types of companies:

  • Infrequent low-degree: These companies rarely innovate, and when they do, their innovations are incremental. These are companies who play a “manage the business model” game. When you hear people say things like, “This is just how you do things,” or “I’ve been doing this for XX years, and the only way to succeed in the business is through experience and hard work,” you are likely experiencing this quadrant. Think about most real estate, oil and energy distribution companies.
  • Infrequent high-degree: These are companies that periodically activate lots of innovation. Ford Motor Company, for example, just the other day announced to investors that its margins would be low for the next year but would later rise to be higher than before as the 113-year-old company invests in a flurry of technology acquisitions and partnerships. They fell behind Tesla, Google, and Uber in the driverless car space and are seeking to catch up. They did the same thing during the late 1990s dot-com-boom.
  • Frequent low-degree: These are companies that continually innovate but with incremental innovations. Like BMW or Toyota, they implement new innovations with every model – self-parking, heated back seats, larger dashboard displays, etc.
  • Frequent high-degree: Only companies that have either a high risk threshold or the scale to scatter lots of bets typically can play here. They are continually trying out big, transformative, uncertain innovations. Think of Amazon, which has such a diversity of hooks in the water, from drones to mobile phones to cloud services to connected home devices.

We’re comfortable judging faceless companies with a framework like this. But let’s bring this a little closer to home. What if we analyzed our own lives this way? I’ve found this framework to offer remarkable, challenging insights for how we choose to live. Give it a try.

Which of the four categories best describes your life?

  • Infrequent low-degree: Do you do the same things every day? Same routine, same job?
  • Infrequent high-degree: Do you reinvent your life every few years? Find a new hobby and home and create a new life?
  • Frequent low-degree: Do you try new small things every day? A different coffee shop or newspaper on the way to the same job as usual?
  • Frequent high-degree: Do you continually try innovating your life? Summers in new cities, changes in clothing style, connecting with new communities of friends?

Personally, I’ve always thought I lived a more innovative life than many. Few two days look alike. I work sometimes from my office, which is a five-minute walk from my home, and I work other times on a plane, 10,000 feet in the air.

But if I am honest with myself, I am not yet living a “frequent high-degree,” “Amazon.com” life. I’d say I live mostly in that frequent, low-degree quadrant.

And I want to, for myself and more importantly for my kids, create a vibrant life of adventure. This is one reason I spent this summer with them in Colombia. Four weeks of new language, customs, food, and friends. It was an amazing experience and a great way to kick off our “Amazon.com” life. I want more!

How about you?

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