It is relatively easy to see how play can generate fabulous new ideas, but what is less obvious is the critical role of play in giving those ideas a chance at life against some very serious odds. Innovation is change, and change sends many of us running for cover—for good reason. Change activates our survival instincts and is at least partly responsible for our tendency toward inertia, and inertia, again is a serious barrier to innovation.
Experts agree that the critical stage of innovation is implementation. Implementation is where the rubber meets the road. It requires us to change our behavior, and changing behavior is not only an intellectual but also an emotional challenge. It also requires us to step into the unknown. But perhaps the greatest challenge is that it requires us to overcome inertia, and that is something that humans are hardwired to resist. That hardwiring is key to understanding how inertia works and what its function is.
The human brain wants to say where it is, in the comfort zone. If we stay in our comfort zone, we don’t have to struggle to survive. We minimize the risk to our survival by staying where we know we are safe. I often explain to my MBA students that the reason they take the same seat in class every week, and the reason we lay our towels in the same area of the beach every summer weekend, is that we are, at our core, instinctual animals. Once we have chosen a seat and made it through class safely without being attacked, the part of our brain responsible for our survival tells us that our best option is to repeat that behavior, because in a way it is the most economical use of our energy. As part of its strategy for survival, our brain wants to conserve energy, so once we sit in a particular spot and know that it’s safe, we will subconsciously want to sit there every time and avoid having to reevaluate the safety of a new spot.
Before proving to the world his ability to be a serial disrupter, Jack Ma first started as an English teacher. In his own words: “innovations in many industries have been triggered by outsiders”. Why? Simply because in most organizations, intellectual inertia prevents teams from being truly innovative. Addressing the issue, Mr Ma went even further, thinking holistically, and creating China’s own Amazon, Paypal, Groupon, DropBox, twitter, spotify & Hulu.
Those who criticize Obama’s speech as “just words,” would be well advised to look at history.
In a scene reminiscent of JFK in Berlin and Ronald Reagan exhorting Gorbachev to “tear down the wall,” Barack Obama has taken the initiative with the culture impasse between the West and communities across the Muslim world.
His speech in Cairo has set a new benchmark for leadership:
Not only did he manage to state his case with firmness and resolve, he was able to break through the years of mistrust by standing and acknowledging the truth on both sides.
His sincere yet calm delivery struck the right chord with the people in the streets of Cairo. So says Annelle Sheline, a Cairo-based American journalist:
In a taxi, I asked the driver for his opinion, and he launched into a
happy spiel in heavy Cairene about Obama wanting peace and trying to
make all the countries of the world work together. When I asked if this
was possible, he responded that there had never been a president like
Obama in the US, and therefore, “Aiwa, mumkin” (Yes, it’s possible).
His strategy was to understand that the imagination of the people resides in the South-West Quadrant of the Intuitive Compass™. He examines the hopes of the people in the street, and addresses them.
Sheline tells us that Dalia Mogahed, the executive director of Gallup’s Center for Muslim Studies had outlined the three points indicated by polls that Muslims wanted to hear.
Respect from the United States for the religion of Islam and for Muslim cultures.
No more unilateral action, but cooperation between equal partners.
Address the policies of the United States that have angered Muslims on key issues, including Palestine, Iraq, Guantanamo, etc.
Without respect no trust can be established – without trust little creativity and substance can unfold; without equality there is no real long lasting effective change; and, without integrity and introspection there is no growth. Obama’s speech touched on each one of these cornerstones.
Obama seized the initiative and brought the voice of reason back to the table. The President is, like it or not, a living symbol – and nothing is more
powerful than symbolic action in an atmosphere of suspicion and
hostility. The Timesreports:
Barack Obama must have said something right if Osama bin Laden, Ayatollah
Khamenei of Iran and the Jewish settlers on the West Bank all lined up to
denounce his speech to the Arab and Muslim worlds.
For too long, the dialog on the future of the Middle East has been dominated by extreme voices. Obama’s speech spoke directly to the aspirations of the common man. He humanized America, by opening up and sharing his personal story.
And now, we see signs that the “Obama Effect” may be sweeping across the Middle East. Iran’s election too, has become a referendum for change.
Earlier, we saw Obama’s overtures in Turkey. The political commentators who were concerned that Barack Obama‘s visit to Turkey was high on style but low in substance may not be as right they believe they are. Their view is focused on the North-East Quadrant of the Intuitive Compass™ – they are focused on measurable results and timelines.
Let’s look at a historical snapshot of public opinion in Turkey, courtesy of Gallup:
Question: If the U.S. can’t get any respect in Turkey, a “secular” democracy, how can they achieve any progress in the Arab world at all?
Flashback: The last attempt at winning the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim world ended in shambles when Bush’s fellow Texan and close friend, Karen Hughes, walked away from the job in total failure. And before her there was the Charlotte Beers‘ propaganda show.
All of which makes President Obama’s short trip to Turkey even more spectacular. He accomplished in two days what the PR-experts couldn’t accomplish in eight years, and he didn’t waste a billion dollars.
How, you ask?
Watch this video of Obama talking to the youth:
These are the same students, who according to to Rupert Murdoch‘s Wall Street Journal, have, for the past eight years,”fostered deep anti-American sentiments exacerbated by an unpopular war in Iraq and a perception that the U.S. is biased toward Muslims.”
What we are witnessing in Obama is the promise of authentic leadership which speaks directly to the heart of people. The most powerful leader of the most powerful country in the world stood in the center of a circle of Turkish students in a university to address their concerns. The circle = cooperation, the center = respect, and addressing concerns = the truth.
With his speech in Cairo, Obama knocked down the psychological wall which separates western culture and the mindset of Islam – now the work at hand is to reach across the wall and shake hands for a brighter future for all. That will happen through the concrete actions people take in the weeks and months ahead.