Innovation: Hide Inside Trojan Horses

Every citadel has gates to keep the foreign element at bay.

Posted Sep 29, 2014

Whether Greeks bearing gifts for stalwart King Priam of Troy or a malware computer virus masquerading as a can’t miss offer, the Trojan horse has come to represent a manipulative strategy of trickery and deception. Virgil’s tale of conquest and woe reminds us that things are seldom what they seem and that most people, save the neglected prophetess Cassandra, see only their own reflection in its surface. Aeneas extols the creative maneuvers of the clever and disparages the unwitting acceptance of superfluous orthodoxy by the foolish as the greatest of walls are breached by myopic pride.

Every citadel has gates to keep the foreign element at bay. They are patrolled by passive-aggressive sentinels who keep ever-vigilant watch for deviants and interlopers. They use catch phrases like “we need more data,” and, “we don’t have the time or money right now,” or that show stopper, “we need to send this to committee to get authorization.” Translation: NO, NO, NEVER. In a mature organization, for every one role there is for creating value, there are four for maintaining it and still five more for overprotecting it with the slow constricting coils of bureaucracy and knavery that leave petrified victims gasping for support. Yet, these custodians of the old way and barriers to the new can be outdone by those who can use the force of this beadledom to hide the unconventional and experimental in plain sight.

Rocks star executives, all shoes and haircuts, victoriously parade big money projects through the gilded streets of the biz. Unbeknownst to the uninitiated, invisible innovators hide in the belly of the beast implementing their new practice or process or person all in the name of the holy project. But all must remain undetected until there is something good and glorious to show and offer up to the Caesars as their own. The trick to getting what is needed to grow is to connect it to what others want, and using the momentum to pull the resources, time and support though the convoluted system.

Skulking and crouching are the accepted tactics and mannerisms for innovation ninjas that move with force undetected in the darkness. Resources, opportunities and sacred access are gained when we subvert officialdom with its own tangle of rules. Like Aikido masters, we reverse the force that naysayers and reactionaries use to subdue us to neutralize them. The squeaky wheel gets the grease but not the goods.

Though we are pulled forward toward the new and the good our brutish past follows our evolutionary tracks closely. As old Darwin noted, nature is red in tooth and claw. Given the events of the day, might we include human nature as well? Ignoring this most unpleasant observation is the real deception, for indifference bring injustice and suffering.

The modus operandi of most organizations from families to multinational corporations is political and contentious. Dissonance can be heard at the dinner table and the negotiating table alike. These forces of conflict can and should be used in our good service to produce the generative energies of growth. However, when one of these forces holds sway over all others, most organizational mechanisms and practices are employed to maintain their continued dominance.

To free up resources and encourage the will to grow, the established order and decorum must be turned back upon itself to nurture and nourish our opportunities for reinvention. The key is not denying it but working through it to get beyond it. To innovate, we must both see our situation for what it really is, and see our promising endeavors for that may truly become. To advance a foreign idea in a world of guarded provincial walls may require that we temporarily hide ourselves and tag along with the powers that be. Better to be a prudent passenger who reaches his destination with ingenuity intact than the mythical lone hero who has lost his way along the way.