I'm often asked how organizations can build more innovators or create a culture of innovation. The answer doesn't lie in the hands of an innovation team, Chief Innovation Officer or any innovation framework. It is built entirely by awe-inspiring individuals and organizations - the phenomenon is called contagious innovation.
Contagious innovation is the belief that individuals and organizations who produce awe-inspiring things can influence and change an environment more effectively than anything else. Like the phrase "art inspires art," innovation inspires innovation. To be truly “contagious”, you not only have to push the boundaries of what’s possible, but do it in a way that no one has ever done before. These innovators don’t just spark the rise of copycats, but they create revolutions.
Contagious Innovation in Action
Take what happened when a bunch of inspiring individuals worked together to build PayPal. Their whole business model was crazy for its time - users sent their bank details to a company that had nothing to do with a bank. Yes, PayPal created a radically new business model, but most importantly, they unlocked the belief in their teams that anything is possible. It inspired the people who helped build PayPal to branch out and work on their own businesses in other fields.
Members of this PayPal Mafia—past employees who left the company to pursue other ventures—have become some of the most influential leaders in Silicon Valley. One prominent name is Elon Musk. He moved on from PayPal to co-found the infamous Tesla, Inc., a tech leader that’s always pushing boundaries. Other members of the PayPal Mafia have gone on to create and/or co-found companies like YouTube, Palantir and LinkedIn.
Contagious innovation isn’t limited to business. Six-time NBA All-Star Stephen Curry, who’s often called the greatest shooter in NBA history, sparked a basketball revolution. The game of the NBA has fundamentally changed because of Steph. For example, in the 1985-86 seasons, teams were averaging 3.3 threes per game, and this last 2018-19 season, it was 32.0 threes per game. Walk into any basketball gym around the world, and kids are launching balls from everywhere now.
Saturday Night Live was an innovative genius creating a show dedicated entirely to wild comedy sketches. The show itself was so out there compared to anything that preceded it and, as a result, has created many superstars outside of the show because of the unbridled talent. Chevy Chase left SNL after only one year, and he went on to star in huge movies like Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation, for example.
How Will We See More Contagious Innovation?
To promote contagious innovation, we need more and more people who dare to do and create inspirational things in every industry. Ideas start with individuals and individuals can move mountains when they’re inspired by the actions of peers. That’s how Canada will take the lead in the innovation race, by the audacity and hard work of individuals who are motivated to innovate.