tugboatI had the opportunity to attend a CCVO session today with Ashley Good, the founder and CEO of Fail Forward, as she spoke to an audience of nonprofit folks about fostering a mindset for innovation within organizations. She spoke about the polarity of innovation and stability, but not just as two ends of a single spectrum. Good’s model gave a second dimension, measuring both the pros and cons of each side, rather than focusing more simply on the positive parts of innovation and stale side of stability.

The image that this brought to my mind was of hunting for icebergs. I imagined a tugboat with a large harpoon that would go out into the choppy northern waters, find a nice, big chunk of ice, and tie it up well and secure. Then, the tug would set back to warmer waters, trying desperately to get that ice back to the sunny south. Of course, by the time they arrived back to port, there would be no iceberg left – it had melted away, mingling with the warmer southern waters.

If your goal is simply to grab an iceberg and present it in the south, that would certainly be a failure, but if your goal is to bring in some cool water to mix with the warm, then you’ve found yourself a small win.

I see innovation in the same way. It’s elusive when you’re foreign to the waters, and if you’re not careful with how you navigate them, you might crash right into it and sink yourself a long ways from home.

If you try to drag it back where it doesn’t naturally fit, you’ll find that it becomes even more elusive and hard to hold on to, and will eventually disappear altogether, seemingly without a trace.

So, what’s to be done? Icebergs can’t thrive in the warm, comfortable waters of the far south, but you want one. Maybe the answer is to keep dragging icebergs down, and slowly, over the decades, you’ll cool the waters enough to allow them to flourish. Or maybe, it’s not the icebergs that need to move – it’s you.

What am I saying? Innovation and stability can coexist in the short term, but innovating in a too-stable environment dilutes the strength of the new idea. Moving towards innovation might make you a bit more uncomfortable in the everyday, but it makes those moving targets a little more manageable.

At least, that’s my two cents – small change compared to the big ideas that Ashley Good shared with the group today, to be sure.