Is there nothing new under the sun?

abstract sun

I was sharing a few unexpected idle moments with my husband the other day when he showed me this video clip, which shows performances by Michael Jackson and Bob Fosse side by side. Bob Fosse was, among other things, a talented choreographer whose unique style shown in the 1971 clip from The Little Prince, appears to be being ripped off by the King of Pop ten years later.

Michael Jackson is known for his creativity and innovation, and he is believed to have had an enormous impact on pop music. But after seeing this short clip, he seems not innovative, but derivative – and worse, even plagiaristic. This unexpected juxtaposition led me to think about the nature of creativity and innovation in a different way. Is it possible that even when something appears to be strikingly novel, it is “merely” an incremental improvement upon what came before?

As someone who has read countless leadership and management research articles and popular books over the past decades, I can attest to the fact that even the newest and greatest ideas in management eventually seem like nothing more than clever repackaging of the same essential truths. And yet, we are living in an age that is marked by sudden and disruptive technological change. Last night, as I whipped out my iPhone to show my sons a YouTube clip to answer their question about why it is dark at night, the vast change that has taken place in the past thirty years seemed undeniable. But perhaps what is most striking is that these incremental innovations are happening at an unprecedented pace.

It seems an unarguable fact that, at minimum, businesses need to be agile and adaptive to keep up with these changes, even if they aren’t driving it. Business leaders need to help their organizations understand and take advantage of a changing business environment, which demands new approaches and different success factors. In this day and age, speed is king. We need to be able to gather, synthesize, and analyze business intelligence from a variety of sources at the speed of light and be willing and able to turn on a dime if necessary. Companies can no longer afford to be plodding Clydesdales hoping endurance will make up for lack of maneuverability. Rapid change also requires an emphasis on different personal success factors. Openness to change, the ability to champion change, and the willingness to make intuitive decisions in the face of evolving and ambiguous information are increasingly important leadership skills.

As we discussed in a recent post, change is inevitable, and we can only hope to shape it through the way that we respond to it. Creative responses to change are what promote innovation. The faster change comes, the faster we must innovate to succeed.

“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity not a threat.” –Steve Jobs