As someone who has only worked in the Midwest, I know how scary it can be to change up the status quo. Let’s face the facts, being innovative pushes people out of their comfort zones and can cause a huge headache when everyone isn’t on board. Am sure you have had pushback when presenting a new idea. In my experience, the go to phrase is “I don’t know about that, it has always been done this old way”. Early in my career, this remark would shut me up quickly. How could I argue with this logic? Why should I come roaring in with new ideas and mess everything up that is currently working? Well, younger me, I can now tell you 3 reasons why you should push the status quo and try new things no matter how difficult.
1 Data is like milk, it has an expiration.
I first heard this phrase from Sima Yazdani, a senior technology leader at Cisco while she was giving me and my classmates a company tour. The “next big thing” that was created by mining the newest data is only relevant until that data expires. Someone out there was crazy enough to try something new before the data they were using was no longer relevant. During my time visiting companies all throughout the innovation capital of the world, Silicon Valley California, I noticed that the work being done was at speeds unimaginable in the Midwest. In these fast-paced environments there was no “old ways” of doing things because almost every part of these businesses was evolving continually. The goal of these companies was not to spit out the perfect product, it was to win the race of using fresh data before it expired. This concept was eye opening for me, and it made me realize that sometimes you have to take the leap of faith with new ideas, even if it means failure. You have to try new things before all of the kinks are worked out if you truly want to utilize data before its expiration.
2 Focus on innovation pays off, literally.
While I was in Silicon Valley, I noticed a trend between all of the companies I visited. From big name companies like Netflix, Google, and Salesforce to all of the many startups I was able to tour, they all had a common culture of driving for innovation. In fact, this drive for innovation was so important in their company culture that many other things had to take a back seat. Unfortunately, a lot of these things that had to be put aside are staples of Midwestern working culture. Work life balance was not as prevalent in some of these ultra-innovative environments. There also seemed to be less overall professionalism in the form of work atmosphere, clothing people wore, and the way people spoke. My suspicion for the lack of innovation we experience in the Midwest is the fear of these tradeoffs in working culture. However, I believe the tradeoff is worth it, and I want to push for innovation in the workplace even in the Midwest. I particularly think the trade for an innovative culture is worth the personal and companywide financial gains. It is clear that top companies are coming out of Silicon Valley, so why not try to imitate their cultures and reap the benefits.
3 You must keep running, or the times will catch you.
The final, and most important reason to push back against the non-innovative mindset of “it has always been done this way” is to simply keep up with the times. For example, let’s say that you manufacture cars at the top company in the world. At the same time your competitor, who is not as great as you currently, has a drive for innovation and is working on autonomous vehicles while pushing for the newest manufacturing trends like full automation and using artificial intelligence. In 30 years, your product, processes, and entire company will be outdated and out of business when the times have changed and almost all vehicles are autonomous. Meanwhile, your competitor is thriving because their products, processes, and entire business is relevant and developed. This is a dramatic example but shows the importance of keeping up with the newest trends in technology on a personal level, and as a company. The simple truth is that anyone who chooses to sit comfortably will be left behind all of their competitors running with the newest trends and challenging their old standards.
I am not trying to say change is easy in any way. Coming up with innovative solutions and pushing for an innovative culture will cause pushback, especially if you are working in the Midwest like me. Be ready for some people to hit you with the phrase “I don’t know about that, it has always been done this old way”. However, I think the fight against this mindset is worth the reward. I will leave you with the quote that my professor used to challenge me:
“When was the last time you did something for the first time?” ― John C. Maxwell