3.404 meters of vertical innovation


June 2015, article published in El Periódico de Catalunya

3.404 meters of vertical innovation

I wish that innovation could be measured in meters. Not just any meters, but meters that ascend vertically, because innovation is an upward slope. That way we could evaluate, for example, if 3.404 meters is a lot or a little. If we put concrete objectives to innovation (which is a bit demanding), we could know if we’ve reached our peak. For example, climbing above 3.000 meters is very demanding. There is no vegetation, oxygen begins to thin out, and the climatic conditions change rapidly.

Last Thursday I gave a conference about failure in commercial innovation, and a few hours later I went to climb mount Aneto, the tallest mountain in the Pyrenees. This experience helped me think of how businesses should confront innovation, particularly small businesses, because they suffer more than others when something goes wrong.

The first thing I thought is that to ascend I needed help. At 41 years old, I know very little about mountains, almost nothing. For this reason, it seemed prudent to hire an expert guide.

And for the small businesses that have been in the market a long time, with a mature product or service, who is their Sherpa? Do they have a full-time professional dedicated to innovation? Someone who knows where and how to step, what it means to forge a path, or when to stop? Because once the ascent begins (that’s what you do all the time, up and up) you find that it makes more and more sense to have someone with you who knows how to guide you.

As the slope gets more beautiful, things start to turn ugly. And when your guide ropes you to keep a slip from becoming a dangerous fall, there, in that precious moment, you discover the concept of added value.

While climbing, you also discover what it is to have patience: to press on, to wait, or to keep up the pace. Patience, especially for the guide, to explain to me what he has learned in all his years on the mountain. Essentially, the same patience that you must have when you innovate, because in innovation there are no shortcuts.

When you think you can’t take it anymore, when you hear your heart slamming in your chest at 180 beats a minute and your breathing fogs your view, when you have no strength left, then, only then, you miraculously keep going up. And you continue, in search of the marvelous peak, a summit that will give you rest, that will give purpose to the hours of preparation and meaning to your fears and your hopes.

On the ascent, you value all that you left behind below, the path you have already walked, and the scars that accompany this journey to the top. And this is important too, especially halfway through; otherwise, we would not be fair with ourselves. You must celebrate what you’ve already achieved. Even if at the end, like me, you don’t reach the summit. Even if you don’t reach 3.404 meters of vertical innovation.

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