Be a Catalyst for Change

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Recently, I was struck by an article in The New York Times by Jennifer Conlin (07/05/14, “At Zingerman’s, Pastrami and Partnership to Go”). It’s about a couple of guys who transformed an idea from a deli that sells roll-up-your-sleeves sandwiches into a $50 million dollar business comprised of 6 unique companies and a growing army of entrepreneurs. Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw are the founders of Zingerman’s, an Ann Arbor, Michigan institution and a favorite delight of my friends and I while slogging through countless hours of reading, learning, and exams at U of M. 

I believe these entrepreneurs have captured the heart of innovation (and business for that matter)—as well as inadvertently encapsulating the approach that Purple Carrot Idea Farm espouses with its clients and partners. While tactical ideas and business execution may come and go, the intent is for the soul of your organization to not just remain, but to thrive. How did a deli have the foresight (or gumption) to start a consulting business and for that business to make complete sense? You do two things. One: stay true to your mission. Two: commit to continuous innovation and the people who drive it.

Sounds easy. It’s not. After all, it is hard to do things differently or at times to even figure out what is to be done (especially when things are going pretty well). And, mistakes are sure to be made. However, history can tell us that the biggest mistake of all is to close one’s eyes to innovation and the changes in the surrounding environment. Companies and industries that do not innovate regularly and do not test themselves continuously against where they are, where they have been, and what they stand for are certain to peak and then disappear.

The great news is that innovation is not an all or nothing proposition. And, it is also not an activity that need be approached without rigor or results. In the case of Zingerman’s, breeding an environment of transparency with an open book management style has been critical to enforce accountability and prioritization. Organizations that can tread delicately between the worlds of exploration, accountability and rigor are able to maintain deep roots for stability along with flexible branches that can weather tough storms.

Innovation is not a destination. It is a journey, and triumph and failure are its fellow travelers. Rarely is it easy or defined by overnight success. But, neither is it a process that must be done alone. With practice and support it is sure to become the cornerstone to organizational longevity, and those who make it through the gauntlet are ensured a path marked by purpose, relevance, and accomplishment. 

 

Most carrots are orange…be a purple carrot.