Nature’s Innovation

On a recent trip to Bend, OR with my parents, my father pointed out a single bird that was eating bugs off the bumper of a car that had clearly made a long drive and had significantly more bugs on the bumper for the bird to enjoy. This prompted a conversation about “innovation” in the world of birds. All the other birds were fighting over crumbs and bugs in traditional locations, while this bird figured out a new, potentially better, solution to finding a meal.   

A few weeks later, I was sitting in a Portland café and noticed birds eating crumbs from under the outdoor tables. These birds called over some other birds and they worked together to find and eat food. This scene reminded me of the bird I saw in Bend and I formed a connection between these birds’ personalities and roles I frequently encounter in the business world: innovators, teachers, and learners.

Innovation is not only about finding new ways to solve an old problem, it is also about finding a way to solve a new problem. Innovators evaluate different alternatives to the way it was done before. Many innovators will have failures, but the most successful ones will view those failures as an opportunity to learn and adapt.

Great teachers take the best innovations and translate that into something useful. Much like the name implies, teachers teach. But more nuanced than that, teachers serve as the “go-between” for potentially complicated innovator insights and learners by making the information easier to understand. While teachers come in many different forms and disseminate information in many ways, they all have the same goal of bridging informational gaps.  

Learners recognize that there is something new or different, and have the desire to engage, understand or accomplish the lesson. To take advantage of innovations and move forward in our personal or professional lives, we have to be open to learning new things. When we stop learning, we stop being able to take advantage of those improvements and innovations. We are also hindered from applying the lessons to future innovations.

The circle is continual between innovation, teaching, and learning. We are not siloed into one role. Many of us move fluidly between these roles based on the situation. No matter which role you are occupying at the time, all three rely on each other to keep moving forward – in business and in life. While not new concepts, it’s interesting to think about these types of roles framed by the birds’ behaviors. Not sure if these observations show I’m more comfortable as an innovator or a teacher, but maybe that is for you to decide.

Erik Gordon Senior Manager | Percipio Consulting Group, Inc.