Innovation can be difficult to understand because it represents something that has never been done before. Innovation can sometimes be perceived as a threat because it challenges the comfort zones and status quo in a company or organization.
The question becomes, is it the characteristic of resilience, tenacity, or stubbornness that helps a company achieve innovation? Let’s review the definition of these three terms.
Resilience is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life and work experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.
Tenacity is the driving force that provides motivation to achieve a goal. Tenacious leaders display a combination of intuition, self-awareness, teamwork, and personal drive. It is your ability to set and achieve goals for yourself and to empower your team to maximize their potential.
Stubbornness is having or displaying dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position in something, regardless of good arguments or reasons to do so. While stubborn may have positive or negative connotations, obstinate is most definitely negative because it implies a kind of hard-headed determination not to change your mind even when it might be best to rethink your position.
We have all experienced the stubborn leader and that stubbornness will eventually cause that person, no matter how qualified, to be ostracized by the team, and therefore become less effective in accomplishing innovation. When you are experiencing resistance to one of your ideas ask yourself, “Am I being stubborn or tenacious?” Determine the concern the person has that you are not adequately addressing.
The workplace and workforce have changed forever. By the year 2025, over 70% of the workforce in the US will be Millennials and Gen Z. Technology and AI are changing the landscape of business and forcing companies to become more innovative to stay competitive. Companies who don’t, like Bed, Bath, and Beyond, end up going out of business.
I would argue that tenacity is the primary driver behind innovation. Innovation requires the ability to overcome never-before experienced obstacles. The courage to stand alone, follow individual beliefs and instincts and the commitment and focus to achieve the end goal require an extreme level of tenacity from leadership.
Tenacity is not resilience. Tenacity is the perseverance needed when confronting challenges whereas resilience is being able to bounce back after failures. Tenacity drives charismatic leaders who are passionate innovators. They are not stubborn and welcome feedback and input from others while in pursuit of their vision.
A perfect example of a tenacious leader was Thomas A. Edison. I’d like to share a quote by Edison in an 1890 Harper’s Monthly Magazine.
“I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed three thousand different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory. My chief difficulty, as perhaps you know, was in constructing the carbon filament, the incandescence of which is the source of the light.”
How many of you would be willing to display this same level of tenacity to experience over 3,000 failures? There was another quote by Edison’s friend Walter S. Mallory, as it relates to Edison’s later work on storage batteries. Walter asked Edison “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done, you haven’t been able to get any results?” Edison turned like a flash and with a smile replied: “Results! Why man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”
Tenacity describes the patience and commitment that is required to convince other people of the wisdom and value of an idea. It might involve trying something numerous times until you achieve a tipping point, where the right people begin to understand why your innovation is worth the painful process of change.
There are things you can do to increase your ability to display the trait of tenacity when it is most needed. Step one is to move from challenge to success. People who display the greatest level of tenacity, even in the face of difficult circumstances, have created an internal story that motivates them to carry on even in the face of great challenges.
An entertaining example of an internal story was displayed in the movie Tommy Boy. After his beloved father dies, dimwitted Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) inherits a near-bankrupt automobile parts factory in Sandusky, Ohio. His new stepmother, Beverly (Bo Derek), wants to cash out and close, but Tommy’s sentimental attachment to his father’s employees spurs him to make one last-ditch effort to find someone who will buy their products. With his father’s tightly-wound assistant, Richard (David Spade), in tow, Tommy hits the road to scare up some new clients. His tenacity wins out in the end!
Step two is to surround yourself with other tenacious people. When you have a team who is equally committed, when you get tired or discouraged, other members of your team can re-energize you as well as other team members. You can move your innovative ideas forward when you build tenacious teams.
Step three is to understand the value of DEI. When your team represents a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and temperaments, this allows you to hear different perspectives and solutions on how problems can be resolved. Never underestimate the opinions of individuals who can analyze your innovation with a set of fresh eyes. As a result, you will accomplish more, even when there are endless obstacles.
Implement these three steps and you will become known as a tenacious, innovative leader who finds joy in the role of innovator. Throughout your career develop the traits of a tenacious leader who receives input and feedback from others while you pursue goals, visions, and innovations.
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