Chapter 15. Innovative Love

As an international business consultant and assistant professor on internationalization, I am obligated to keep up to date with business strategy and innovation. A former student of mine informed me of a conference on business management innovation presented by two Dutch professors and founding members of the HOLST Center, a non for profit institute in Holland that is able to operate with a 40 million Euro annual budget.

The institute receives funds from both the EU and private organizations that pay the institute to undertake research projects that lead to innovative ideas that could be marketed if viable afterwards. They are for example trying to introduce LED lights in running gear and fabrics, they have developed a system for doctors to keep track of when a patient takes their medication, they have put a microchip on wine bottles to know the exact moment when that bottle is uncorked. Great things.

My first question as the president of a Spanish non for profit organization that had to cease its activity in 2011 due to lack of governmental support is: Where do European funds end up in Spain? How do you explain that European non for profit organizations succeed at obtaining funds and in Spain whenever you ask for financial support for an idea with a huge potential it is never a good time for them to allow access to those funds? Five years ago most Spaniards had an idea of what could be the answer to the question, today they know for a fact that the answer to the question is corruption.

As I listened to the presentation and apply the new concepts and ideas to existing clients and scenarios, I can’t stop thinking about how these very same ideas affect human relationships, specially love relationships. The thought being that if we are able to innovate in the way that we manage an organization, we can learn how to be innovative when it comes to managing personal relationships too.

There are two types of innovation they say, strategic and operational. The first one creates a new universe, it responds to a need (old or new) that no one had managed to respond to before. The second one takes care of a particular existing problem, let’s say it is just a more creative improvement to the existing one that reduces the problem to its minimum but doesn’t necessarily make it disappear. A good example would be a patient with arthritis that goes see a doctor and the doctor prescribes a new treatment that will make the symptoms go away if the patient follows the instructions and does not interrupt the treatment. In a business scenario, operational innovation happens to increase the efficiency of a company, to increment its productivity, etc. but always in an existing scenario. Business consultants often work at that level. When a company wishes to increase its productivity or sales abroad (in my case I help companies gain business in the US) they call me. But most of our work happens at an operational level. What we consultants really dream of doing, where we can add more value, is at the other level. Help a company break with its past and create a new universe, a new market that allows for a more expansive economy.

But how do we apply these business concepts to love? I see it very clearly.

Let’s say that a couple is having problems getting along, they don’t understand each other, they are speaking different languages, they are standing in opposite poles. In short, they are about to break up.

She feels like the couple can no longer exist unless some strategic changes take place. She wants a new universe, she wants to forget about how they were doing things up to this point and start from scratch. She wants to innovate strategically. She wants a new universe for the couple.

He on the other hand thinks that the couple could improve just by changing the way that they operate. If they treat each other differently, if they improve (change) the existing arrangements, the couple will do better. He wants to innovate only at an operational level.

How do you think that this couple will end up?

If he doesn’t see the point of starting over from scratch they will fail. If she doesn’t think that a few specific improvements will do they will fail.

It appears that they only way that this couple could continue to exist is if they find a point in the middle. The same happens with companies.

Steve Jobs had an Strategy of his own. He would discard projects that were unlikely  to succeed. He would show up at Apples’s headquarters elevators and ask his employees: “What are you working on? If after listening to the employee for 2 minutes he felt that the project was not going anywhere he would fire the person on the spot and cease the project. No wonder why after a while, people would take the backstairs…

The same thing happens with relationships, even if you have spent many years working on it, if you feel like your relationship is not taking you anywhere, cease it, leave it. Let go.

Better things will come along, think of the iPhone for example, many projects had to be interrupted by Jobs I am sure for the iPhone to come to life.

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