Nan-in, a Japanese master , received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
I've been thinking about this for a few days -- does increasing experience in a company eventually stifle innovation? Why do younger, smaller companies seem to innovate more than large organisations with years of experience?
I've often felt that when a company is young, there are a lot of people with less experience who usually jump at most new ideas. There are those with a vision for the company that support these new ideas. Yes, there are pragmatists, conservatives and skeptics who may not be as gung-ho about new ideas, but in the initial days of the company, they're outnumbered by the enthusiastic lot and eventually they convert. It seems as if ideas flow in a viral fashion in these organisations.
Fast forward a decade and a half and a lot of the innovators are now grizzled professionals. The visionaries have learned from their mistakes and are more risk-aware. Yes, there are new innovators, but because of the shift of the original enthusiasts, the company now has a larger number of people with their own set ideas of success and with a strong criticism for every new idea. They've got experience to know why specific ideas will fail, they know that they'd rather not experiment and invite risk! As it turns out, new ideas get beaten down even as they're mentioned. People spend so much time trying to justify their ideas, that when it's time for implementation, they've lost all their steam. As a consequence, innovation suffers.
I have seen this phenomenon myself, but I don't know what organisations do to get out of such situations. Any thoughts?
(Photo credit: london_ally under the Creative Commons)