BRICKER: What separates actual innovators from those who just talk about it?

innovation-sig-bricker-michael.jpgWe live in an idea-obsessed time. With the explosion of the sharing economy, tech startups, social media and crowdfunding, we are conditioning ourselves to expect and experience innovation multiple times a day.

The problem with this urgency (and obsessiveness) is that we’re losing focus on the how and why of innovation. We throw the word around so casually that it’s starting to become synonymous with the idea itself. But let’s be clear: An idea is not innovation.

Innovation is about matching need with execution. It’s about changing the conversation and following through.

The how of innovation is the part no one talks about. Mostly because it’s not a linear process. It’s a chaotic mess of starts and stops, of late nights and naysayers, of small surprises and accidental victories.

Innovation is a result, not a goal. Focusing on actually doing the work and making sure it’s done well, that’s the hardest part. Ideas and brainstorming are meaningless without the persistence paired with action.

At PUP, we’ve gotten really good at innovating, not because we’re idea people, but because we recognize the adjacent possible and then do something about it.

Borrowed from author Steven Johnson, the adjacent possible is the ever-expanding blurry future made visible by the right set of present possibilities.

This of course is laughably vague, but it does make sense—innovations don’t materialize from nothing. They emerge when the right people recognize a new opportunity given the technologies, places and realities of the time.

This could be as huge as the iPod or as localized as PUP’s repurposing of the RCA Dome roof. As the innovation expands, each project or product leads to the next one.

The how of the adjacent possible is guided by the why—a clear set of beliefs about the future. And, along with PUP, there’s a collective of social innovators in Indianapolis that are building their why around the city itself.

Organizations like Big Car, The City Gallery, IndyHub, Pattern, The Speak Easy, RecycleForce, Indianapolis Fabrications and Plan 2020 are all tackling civic needs with strong and diverse whys. Our collective why, however, is Indianapolis itself, where innovative installations, events, spaces and places are appearing with delightful and meaningful frequency.

I hope the density of this work begins to brand Indianapolis as an innovative city, and frankly it’s long overdue that we start identifying ourselves this way. We are who we say we are. We don’t need permission. We are not second-tier. We do not need to wait until another city does it before us.

Innovation is about recognizing the adjacent possible, then being the first-best at making it happen. It’s about being post-idea.•

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Bricker is chief innovator for People for Urban Progress, a not-for-profit advocating for connectivity, environmental responsibility and good design.

Check out the rest of IBJ's 2015 Innovation Issue.

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