Innovation starts at the front door
I like to say that innovation starts at the front door. This is true for a company as well as a country. Throughout this article I'll try to relate the concept of innovation in both regards. First, at the company level.
Corporate Innovation "Front Door"
How a company greets new people, new ideas, new perspectives has a lot to do with its innovation capability and prowess. The "front door" is where we greet people and welcome them in, or discourage them and turn them away. The front door is where we bring new concepts, new ideas, new realities into our business, or where we ignore them or turn them away. What does your "front door" look like to people with ideas? Is it an open doorway, welcoming new concepts with clear pathways to success, or does it resemble a castle, with a drawbridge and a moat to discourage visitors?
The front door in this case stands for our openness and willingness to consider new ideas, and the ability to process the new idea behind the first consideration. Welcoming attitudes are not enough. If they were, you nice aunt with the good cookies would be an excellent innovator. You need to have open doorways, and paths for the ideas to follow, and the people who support those pathways must be as welcoming to new ideas as you are.
The Government's "Front Door"
As I travel from country to country it constantly amazes me how easy it is to enter many countries I visit. Recently I had the opportunity to visit Colombia. There, once I left the plane and entered the immigration hall, there were at least 30 active agents reviewing papers and passports. The process took about 5 minutes and was painless. This experience has been consistent in many countries I've visited. In Malaysia recently the immigration and customs process was excellent. The message these countries send to visitors and immigrants is: welcome. Contrast that experience with our nation's "front door" - our immigration process at our national airports. The system, even for US citizens, is time consuming and feels more like an inspection than a welcome mat. For visitors, our immigration system is confounding. I have a good friend from Europe who avoids visiting the States for business because he feels the process entering the country is so burdensome. What message does our "front door" give to potential business visitors, immigrants and others? It appears we actively discourage visitors and immigrants, which will limit our innovation potential.
Don't get me wrong on this - every country needs to establish how immigrants and visitors will be allowed into the country and accounted for. I fully understand and appreciate why we have border controls and immigration systems, but can't they be attuned to the needs of the visitors and the needs of the economy? At a time when we need more educated, more creative people, they are likely to be rebuffed or at least intimidated at our nation's "front door".
Your attitude establishes your altitude
One of those crazy inspirational posters that often hang in the corridors of soulless cube farms shows an eagle flying high over the mountains. The caption reads "your attitude determines your altitude". While corny, this message is vital for innovation. Negative attitudes at any stage of the activity slow or diminish the chances of success. Negative attitudes or reception at the beginning often stop activities in their tracks. Your front door - how you recognize and welcome new ideas or perspectives - has a lot to do with the rest of your innovation activities and outcomes. That's true whether we are talking about one business, or how we welcome visitors and immigrants coming to this country. When we actively turn people away, or intimidate potential visitors or discourage them from coming, we all lose. Another corny but true saying is that a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. In the same way innovators lose nothing by interacting with other innovators, but lose everything when the interactions are delayed or denied.
The welcome mat
Let's put out the welcome mat in our businesses. New ideas, new concepts, new perspectives must be welcomed for innovation to thrive. Likewise, let's find a way to welcome visitors and immigrants so our national fabric thrives and we can continue to lead the world in innovation. Innovation starts at the front door - what sign do you want your visitors to see? "Welcome" or "No Visitors"?