What Makes Some People More Innovative?

10 Feb

Clayton Christensen is a personal hero of mine.  I count myself lucky to also call him my friend, and as if in a perfect trifecta, he is also an investor in Fundly.  I have learned many things from Clayton, which does not make me unique.  He has been a mentor to Andy Grove, Steve Jobs, and many other successful innovators.  His book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, is one of the bestselling management books of all time, and his class at Harvard Business School is the most popular class in the history of the school.

Clayton was recently in Silicon Valley speaking to a group of non-profit professionals about innovation, and he called us as a group onto the carpet.  He told us that the non-profit sector is not configured for long-term success.  We are not the only ones… Clayton predicted the disruption and reconfiguration of the newspaper industry, and those who listened did very well, while those who ignored did not.  He is predicting the disruption of higher education right now.  Clayton was not all doom and gloom regarding the non-profit sector, but he did point out some misalignments, and he made a few salient points:

We are not set up to meet the needs of our supporters.  They give us money, we take their money and do our thing.  We don’t thank, ask, or give back.  This is unsustainable We are too dependent on grants. We do not have a common language–we do not talk to each other…  supporters, donors, non-profit leaders…

The good news, he said, is that non-profit leaders are not afraid of hard work.  That is what we do.  But in order to solve new problems, we need to come up with new ideas, and this will take innovative and disruptive thinking.  “Old ideas will not solve new problems,” he said.

Here is one of my favorite clips about innovative people:


Most non-profit leaders I meet are the person Clayton describes–curious, confident, and innovative.  Now we have to throw off the shackles of convention and old thinking, stop letting foundations tell us how to behave, begin to build meaningful bridges of understanding with our donors, and invest in a sustainable future.  I have lots of ideas on this… more later.


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