Innovation Can Come From the Bottom Up
Those words, spoken at the Bottom of the Pyramid World Summit have stayed with me. In the context of the BoP World Summit, it was a reminder that the minds at the margin, the 'poor,' should be involved in the solutions designed for them. If listened to, minds at the margin can be the source of innovation sought by those seeking to solve problems. While the phrase emanated from a summit dedicated to finding inclusive solutions and innovations for solving poverty, let there be no doubt that it has applications in the affluent world and our jobs.
Bottom-Up Innovation Applies in Nearly Every Circumstance
As I reflect on my work over the past 18 years running companies and consulting with big, small, for-profit and not for-profit enterprises, a common thread emerges. The answers to the challenges we face and the innovation we seek often lie where we least expect them: in the minds of those at the margins. Unhappy customers. Employees who haven't been put in a position to succeed. People who have been marginalized by traditional top-down leadership.
Great Leaders Create Cultures for Innovation to Bubble Up
In my experience, great leaders and innovators don't seek to provide all the answers. They seek out the voice of those at the margins, create a culture for them to be heard and build systems for those ideas to be woven into tapestries that are richer, more vibrant and more resilient than any one individual could create on their own. As they do that, they create a 'Combination Innovation' culture capable of overcoming the challenges they face and catalyzing their teams to achieve their mission.
A Simple first Step for You
Weighty stuff? Perhaps. But it really is as simple as a shift in mindset. A shift to seeing the minds at the margin as a source of solutions and innovation, not the cause of challenges that require them. It starts with one simple step, asking what they think. For those of you in leadership positions I offer you a simple challenge. The next time you've got a problem to solve, a job to be done, start by listening to those at margins and see what emerges. It may just be the start of the solution you seek. Innovation from the Bottom Up isn't just a catch phrase for a conference (the BoP World Summit), it's a mindset shift that can help solve problems in any circumstance.