I recently wrote this article to the Chief Technical Officer of the company where I work. It takes the ideas I learned in studying the book of Daniel (see here), and applies it to how we can innovate as a high-tech firm. I call it a “Process for Innovation”. The CTO replied simply, “very insightful thoughts”. I would love to hear what anybody else thinks.
I have been intrigued by a study of Daniel (from the Old Testament) and the characteristics that made him a “master” over all the wise people in Babylon at the time. From history, we know that as Babylon conquered other nations, it would search for the brightest people and bring them back and educate them in the Babylonian methods and sciences. This is in part what allowed Babylon to stay ahead of its rivals. It acquired and developed bright and innovative people who could solve the problems of the day.
The first interesting thing is that Daniel was said to have an “excellent” spirit. This word is from the Aramaic word “yattiyr” and it’s root meaning is “surpassing” as in a mountain that juts up higher than any other mountain. In other words, something that is excellent, something that is truly innovative, clearly stands out from everything around it.
Toyota and Apple could be said to have this spirit of excellence. They clearly stand out in large measure from all the individual innovations they incorporate into their products. They clearly have a drive to stand out and not settle for second best.
I once flew in an airline over the French Alps, and as I looked out the window I was impressed by the snow covered mountains. But then we came to Mont Blanc, which clearly stood above all the other mountains. It so surpassed the other mountains, that they faded into the background and became insignificant. Here is a photo that shows this characteristic of Mont Blanc:
The lesson to learn here is that one key innovation may make you a mountain, but since everyone is innovating you may still not stand out. Innovation has to be driven by the desire to rise above and stand out among the other innovators in your field. This can be done by having broad based innovation that infuses every aspect of your operations. You stand out not because you have key people that can innovate, but because you are a company of innovators.
The second thing I learned from my study of Daniel was in a passage that says Daniel was a man of “light, understanding and wisdom”.
The word for “light” means “illumination” and means that Daniel could see things other people couldn’t. From this we can learn the importance of looking at our customer problems in ways that uncover issues that others have missed. Or, the importance of having every team member involved shining the light of their perspective on the subject. The more illumination, the more key things will be revealed.
The word for “understanding” means “understanding that comes from contemplation”. Just because we see something that others miss, does not mean that we truly understand it. We must study it, ponder it and come to grips with what is truly going on. The more we study the issues we see, the more we will understand them.
The word for “wisdom” means “skill, shrewdness and prudence”. It is not enough to understand issues. We need wisdom to know what to do. Wisdom in this case means having the skills to make shrewd judgments on what must be done given our understanding.
Having any one of these three attributes would have made Daniel like a mountain. But because he had all three, he stood out like Mont Blanc does in the French Alps, and the king appointed him master over his rivals in the courts of Babylon.
But notice something here. These three attributes are really three levels. Anyone can shine their perspective on a issue and see what others have missed. But it takes a degree of experience to study it and bring proper understanding to the matter. Even more, it takes key experts to make the shrewd judgments on what to do.
In this way, we can arrive at a “process for innovation”. Everyone should be encouraged to shed light and uncover issues that others have missed (and valued for their contributions). Experienced engineers should study such issues to gain real understanding of what is going on. Experts should be involved at the key points when decisions need to made, whether to go forward or not and how.
In all cases, the culture has to be one where innovation is expected and where we are driven not just to do better, but driven to clearly stand out. This can be accomplished when we believe that we can stand out, that we can see things that others miss, that we can understand things better than others, that we can make the right decisions on what to do.
We should never settle for innovation that raises us only to the level of a mountain. We need a drive to innovate in all areas until we clearly stand out as Mont Blanc does.
This starts with illuminating issues, it is moved on by studying what is really going on, and it reaches a successful conclusion because of the skill of key decisions made at critical points.