Vision is the anchor for innovation. I love the unlimited power of the imagination, but it has a tendency to run wild if not properly anchored by vision. We must understand what we are trying to accomplish in order to properly leverage our innovative spirit. Let me tell you a story to illustrate.
I was a High School Assistant Principal about six years ago and noticed that a student had released a bundle of helium filled balloons sitting at the top of a hallway with ceilings of more than twenty feet. We were hosting an event that evening and there was not enough time for the balloons to naturally descend or for maintenance to come out and remove them. There was also a rule prohibiting the custodians from working above a defined height. I informed the custodians that we must remove the balloons prior to the event and explained that I understood the parameters they were working within. I remember the head custodian looking at me in frustration and asking how I expected his team to remove the balloons under the circumstances. My reply, “you are smart people and I know you will find a way”.
Truthfully, I didn’t expect for those balloons to come down when I returned to my office. An hour later the custodian proudly appeared in my office and asked me to follow him into the main hallway. To my surprise the custodial team had rigged together coat hangers to remove the balloons without violating any policies. I can still see the smiles on their faces and the pride in their eyes. This experience taught me a great deal about the impact of vision on innovation.
The custodians I worked with we’re not known for their innovative spirit, but innovated nonetheless. They simply had clarity about the task and a vision for a balloon free future. This brings to mind one of my favorite leadership quotes by General George S. Patton. “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” I believe this quote demonstrates how clarity of vision can drive innovation in your organization. Create the vision and allow your people to create the path.