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Innovation Lessons, Imported From Detroit
 

Author and Detroit native Josh Linkner shares poignant lessons in spurring change from the unfinished story of Motor City's slump and comeback.

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The City of Detroit has had more ups and downs than the most pampered celebrity divas.  Once hailed as a beacon of innovation and entrepreneurship, the city has more recently suffered decades of decay and neglect. Now that it's filled with vibrant sounds of renewal, the poignant lessons from this comeback story can help us all drive success in our companies, careers, and communities.

As a new day now dawns on my hometown, I realize that Detroit represents so much more than a city on the rebound. It is the story of the American dream.  The tale of grit and determination that made our nation great; the qualities that enable entrepreneurs to launch companies and change the world.  And it's the story of the underdog—a city-size version of Rocky Balboa—fighting from behind for life and glory.

Before we begin, it's important to remember: The story of Detroit is an unfinished book.

In Chapter One, our city was born with the DNA of creativity, innovation, and a passion for change.  Creators such as Henry Ford put our city on the map by imagining a better tomorrow and then making it happen through entrepreneurial fire.  And with this passion, our city prospered. Chapter One was all about original thinking, fresh ideas, and innovation.

Chapter Two, also known as the dark ages, came next. We left our entrepreneurial roots and shifted to a mindset of entitlement.  Our arrogance and hubris changed us from creators to protecting hoarders. We felt unbeatable. We built stifling bureaucracies. We stopped inventing and dreaming.  We stopped creating.  As the evil forces of bureaucracy, finger-pointing blame, and protectionism emerged—our city crumbled.  We ended Chapter Two as a national punch line.  The rest of the country gave up on us, and we were spinning with hopelessness and despair.

We've just begun Chapter Three, and we Detroiters have a choice. We can continue to point fingers, cry in our soup, and long for the days gone by.  Or we can do something about it.  We can own it, fix it, and rebuild it. This is our time.  This is our defining moment. What will Detroit 2.0 look like? From the ashes, greatness can once again emerge.  Detroit's game plan is one that can be embraced by all of us, whether we're running a start-up, governmental agency or a family.  The same principles that will rekindle the soul of Detroit are the ingredients that will enable you to accelerate growth, slay dragons, and change the world:

Double Down on Innovation. 
In today's hyper-competitive world, creativity has become the currency of success.  Detroit is in the midst of shattering conventional wisdom and reinventing itself from the ground up.  When Ford Motor Company was facing the same seemingly insurmountable challenges as its competitors, it doubled down on innovation.  They got back to creating instead of simply managing.  The results?  Record profits and a bright future.  When your company or career is on the ropes, unleashing your creativity is job No. 1.

Get Scrappy. 
Entitlement and bureaucracy knocked us down, so force-of-will must bring us back up.  No more mocha-Frappuccino-lattes, outrageous pensions, or union protectionism.  It's time to fight with the spirit of legendary Detroiter Joe Louis.  We need a whatever-it-takes approach, and so do you if you are pursuing greatness of your own.  As the saying goes, "most of us want to get to heaven but are unwilling to die to get there."  Burning desire, unstoppable will, and real commitment still matter, even in the digital age.

Rally Behind a Shared Vision. 
Organizations that notoriously run in different directions and are filled with misalignment, cronyism, and strife are on the fast track to shattered dreams. That's exactly what happened to Detroit, and the results were devastating. Today, we have strong leadership in both the public and private sector and are collaborating with alignment.  Great leaders share a clear vision and ensure that all available resources are directed at reaching that target.

Demand Authenticity.
It's time to stop apologizing for what we aren't, and celebrate what we are.  We can't be the New York of this or the Silicon Valley of that. We need to become our own benchmark of success rather than measuring by comparison.  We've all developed incredible BS detectors, and can see right through the phonies - both companies and individuals.  Detroit needs to stand strong as a category-of-one, and so do you.

Right now is Detroit's chance to innovate and evolve.  To disrupt and prosper.  To breakthrough and conquer.  And it's your time too.  As Detroit 2.0 comes to life, envision your own 2.0 version of both your company and yourself.  As many of us devote our careers to transforming our crumbled city into a new beacon of hope, this is also your moment to shine.

Detroit is seizing the moment and our future is bright.  As the Chrysler commercial says, "the hottest fires forge the hardest steel."  Let Detroit's rebirth become a symbol of growth and transformation for us all.  The nation will witness Detroit's renewal with baited breath, and the world will similarly take notice as you embrace Detroit's lessons to realize your full potential.

The last word goes to fellow Detroiter Eminem, "This is the Motor City.  This is what we do."

IMAGE: Cannaday Chapman
Last updated: Sep 7, 2011

JOSH LINKNER is a five-time entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and professor and the New York Times best-selling author of Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity. You can read more at JoshLinkner.com.
@JoshLinkner




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