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Innovation leaders draw on stories to frame the context for new products and features. We use these narratives to understand our customers – from their viewpoints – and to identify needs or opportunities. We draw lessons from these stories to inform our approach to new problems based on how we solved a similar problem in the past. Today, I’m going to share my story of recovery and apply it to how we can approach innovation in the current broken economy.
Don’t Ride Your Bike in the Rain
About three and a half years ago, I broke my shoulder. I rarely think about it now, but without an ability to work out for the past few weeks due to government lockdowns, I have had some discomfort in the joint. Mostly, the accident was an interruption to my work and a nuisance to time management, but recovery from the injury was very slow.
In October 2016, I checked the weather app on my phone. No rain for 82 minutes. “Great,” I thought. That gave me time to ride a 12-mile route to the gym. I assumed I could workout while it rained and head home after the storm passed. Instead, a torrential rain stuck struck me about halfway into my ride. The rain was so heavy I couldn’t see 10-feet ahead of me.
Having had “safety” drilled into me from my work years at a petrochemical plant, I (ironically) decided to ride on the shoulder. I thought it would be “safer’ than riding on the road like I usually do. Unfortunately, I was unfamiliar with the shoulder which had lots of litter and I struck a large discontinuity in the pavement. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground and couldn’t lift my arm.
Ten days later, I had surgery to piece together the crushed bone. The break was so severe that the doctor had ordered an artificial joint to be available in the surgery room in case the fragments of bone were too small to put together again.
Keeping in mind that I’m normally very active – I don’t even know how to sit still for five minutes – the rehabilitation was excruciating for me. The broken arm had to be in a sling for six weeks without movement to fuse the bone. Six weeks! And then physical therapy involved only stretching for several weeks. I laughed when they finally allowed me to do bicep curls with a one-lb. weight. I was used to bench-pressing 75% of my body weight.
I worked and worked at the physical therapy. They recommended doing at-home exercises a few times per week. I did the exercises three times per day. At the rehab center, I ramped up the weight, intensity, and duration of each exercise until I was the first patient in rehab to be released from the doctor’s care.
For the next 18 months, I went to the gym religiously, sometimes twice per day. When I traveled, I went to the hotel gym. On car trips, I carried my own dumbbells and stretch bands so I could work out and heal quicker. My overriding goal was to get back to normal. And after 18 months, I could bench press just over 50% of my body weight. (I lost more than five pounds in the first week after my accident and didn’t gain it back until this lockdown.) This was/is a slow recovery!
Today’s Economic Depression
My shoulder has never gone back to “normal”. I have lost flexibility and I feel an odd tightness at times – especially when I can’t workout. On the other hand, I still love to ride my bike and bought a new road bike a year ago, converting (for the first time ever) to clipless pedals.
The economic collapse caused by the government’s reactions to a virus impacting less than 1% of the population will have a slow recovery. We are witnessing skyrocketing unemployment and debt which will surely be addressed with increased taxes and inflation. Our way of life will never again be “normal”. Like my shoulder, it might take 18 months to get close, but we will never have the flexibility we had before. After all, like lemmings, we all dutifully take our shoes off for TSA with some strange assumption that the action makes us “safe”.
Likewise, society will sacrifice rights for a vision of “safety”. Without scientific data, people who are not sick will wear masks because a government bureaucrat told them to do it. People will order food delivered to their home instead of shopping. We will accept – as a society – a deterioration of civil rights in exchange for a continued facade of “safety” without explanation.
Instead of accepting that this is the so-called “new normal”, I challenge every innovation leader to work on improvement. Just as I did after I broke my shoulder, we can test new products and ideas three times as frequently. We can find new ways to do things so we can get back a semblance of normal. But the journey will be slow. It’s hard to rapidly influx a fearful public back into jobs when we’re told there are large groups of people who might have better financial benefits with stimulus than through the pride of getting up every day to go to work.
What Can You Do?
It takes hard work to recover from a sports injury. The physical therapist told me I had to do more work to recover than an old person who had a shoulder surgery because I had been in great shape. Our economy was roaring and now it is completely collapsed. We have a long way to go. The only way we get there – as innovation leaders – is through rigorous dedication to best practices. Like physical exercise, best practices help us recover, even if the recovery is excruciatingly slow.
If you want to speed your organization’s recovery during this economic downturn, please join me for a free webinar on 30 April 2020 at 1 pm CDT (2 pm EDT, 11 am PDT) for 20 Tips of Innovation in 2020. Each unique company attendee receives a complimentary Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ Personal Development assessment and coaching session. Register here.
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I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced innovation professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or area code 281 + phone 787-3979 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.