Women Talk about Innovation
By Deborah Jackson
June 07, 2013
When the questions “What is innovation?” and “Who is innovative?” and “What creates innovation?” were posed to us as ambassadors of Innovating Women, a campaign launched to crowd-create a book featuring women’s role in the innovation economy, I realized how many different ways there were to define innovation, each as personal and thought-provoking as the next.
Some felt that innovation was a way of solving a problem while others defined it simply as the act of creating something original. Others came up with a more formulaic response such as entrepreneur and philanthropist Nancy Conrad’s three part formula of: “can we make it, will it make money and does anyone need or want it.” This approach shows that innovation has great breadth and variety. But the most interesting thing to me was that almost all agreed that true innovation was extremely personal, valuable, and came about as a result of creativity, as well as audacity.
Ellen Leanse, a business innovator, strategist, and communicator, articulated a particularly poetic response to the question of innovation.
“Innovation is a personal and internal response to an external challenge, obstacle, or opportunity… Perhaps innovation is also a type of language— a simple phrase or complex essay responding to an array of information, arranged or seen as never before. ‘I get it,’ the language says, ‘And, see? This is possible,” she said.
Her definition goes deeper into what lies beneath innovation and tries to explain what spurs it within us all. Innovation happens because each one of us brings our unique “language”— our experiences, knowledge, and personalities, to the discussion, creating a personal response to what is in front of us, whether it be a factory production issue or a simple wondering that may lead to scientific discovery.
This personal aspect of innovation is especially significant when considering the value of innovation by women. As women, we have shared experiences that differ from those of men. As women innovators, we bring new perspective, and with that, new value.
The next question then, “What creates innovation?” is significant in order to encourage women’s innovation. Here, the most common refrain was that fearlessness, particularly fearlessness of failure, was necessary for innovation.
Moderator and researcher for Innovating Women, Kristen Van Nest cited a study that found young men were less afraid of failure than young women. Entrepreneur Claudia Chan responded that we should, “…reach out to women when they are still young as girls. Let them know that there should be no limits based on gender and no fear of failure. Not fearing failure does not mean the fear will be gone, but just that we are better able to cope with the fear.”
This idea that everyone fears failure, and that what is really significant is being able to cope with the fear and gain the confidence necessary to take risks and seek innovation is, I think, encouraging for the future of women innovators. Our role in society now is to let the women coming after us know that failure, and the fear of failure, is a natural component of innovation. They need to know that they have something valuable to add, and that they are infinitely capable of innovating the world.