The REASONS YOU ARE held back

Innovation ecosystems involve many hopeful and inspired people along the journey of bringing an idea to life.

Like bait on a hook, magazines like Entrepreneur and Fast Company bombard aspiring business people with the happy and ambitious phrases defining what you should do, or be, to create the next best disruptive invention that will propel your career:

  • Take bold action!

  • Be a risk taker!

  • Push the envelope!

  • Your brilliant ideas can change the world!

Well here is a little secret. All of these inspirational slogans are annoying as hell to those trying to create change in big-company cultures.

“Making things happen” isn't a happy experience. It is a grinding, protracted battle.

What most companies would call a victory, like a big sale inked, or an introduction of a new product on the shelves, well, that is not when innovators celebrate.

We celebrate when minds are converted, which happens at a snail’s pace. It only happens one mind at a time.

That is when we kick back, smoke a proverbial cigar with our small squad of disruptors, and wait for the next battle to begin.

Your mind is uniquely wired as an innovator

Lots of people want to innovate.

What we encounter is a lot of people who want to “WOW” their colleagues and gush about innovation and their role in it, but the fact is, no one really wants to get in there to see how it’s done.

They only want to see the successes, without taking the risks or looking at all of the failures. Ninety percent of the time innovation leads to failure or learnings of what worked and what didn’t.

These outcomes make corporate executives very uncomfortable. Which makes your boss uncomfortable. After all, the status quo is what pays the bonus.

But you are a visionary thinker. You see the bigger picture.

Not in some distant future. But now. You see that the changes made today, will positively impact the company in the future.

How can you survive this frustration?

The corporate machine and why you are unhappy

The corporate machine likes conformity, trade secrets, efficiency, and matching results to forecasts.

On the other hand, the innovation machine is fueled by non-conformity, breaking the rules, transparency, and collaboration, and recognizing that unexpected results are sometimes the most valuable outcomes.

People who resist change: Corporate Conformists

Corporate Conformists

Companies are set up in hierarchies. You have a CEO, then EVP, SVP, VP, Director, then you and your peers (or some similar structure).

What you aren’t told is, that just because they are on your team, it doesn’t make them a team player. It doesn’t mean that they want to collaborate.

It could be that they are an “efficiency innovator”, one who eliminates risk, versus taking on the risk of change.

Or, it might mean that they don’t collaborate, because they want to win—without you. (Ever heard of a silo?)

Code language of the corporate conformist:

  • No

  • It will never be a priority

  • I don’t have resources

  • That’s not the way we do things here

  • The VP will never approve this

  • I struggle to understand why we would do this

  • Welcome to (fill in your company name here)

Innovators are open and transparent. But, the corporate machine sees your open efforts to change the equilibrium and works hard to squash your ideas.

Don’t rock the boat.

Expansive innovators struggle against a sea of conformity—two conflicting mindsets at odds from the get-go.

Passionate change agents cannot tolerate conformity. But what are you supposed to do when you know that the game is stacked against you?

You hide your true nature as a visionary, and turn YOURSELF into a Smuggler


Smugglers like you are fearless. They choose not to relax with groups or communities that seek the safety of business-as-usual. Smugglers want to kill business as usual. We are dividers. Breakers. We unhinge old beliefs.

Smuggling is neither done through PowerPoint, nor email. Smugglers ignite one mind at a time. We minimize fear one mind at a time. Every chance we get. A Smuggler’s mission is to ignite movements without being politically ‘outed’ and neutralized.

Smugglers cause disruption. We open the eyes and stimulate the minds of people who didn’t know they were blind and stagnant.

Code language of Smugglers:

·       Yes

·       Let me see how I can accelerate this

·       I will find resources

·       We need to change things around here

·       I will get this approved

·       Why wouldn’t we move fast on this

We create movements

How to recognize a Smuggler


  • Create an underground resistance to the “same old same old” because we believe we need to change to stay relevant in the market

  • Minimize the fear of the new

  • Seed thoughts of hope, in different places, so that when others get together they share the same vision

  • Make new ideas popular, with a smile and encouragement that it’s cool to back the idea

  • Suffer, and oh how we suffer, the obstinacy of those who aren't capable of connecting the dots

  • Tell the right part of the story to the right person at the right time

  • Give unconditionally in an un-giving culture

  • Collaborate with those who will collaborate, and team together to advance solutions

  • Are willing to be vulnerable and admit when we don't know the answers

  • Are often lonely in our view of the world

  • Are convinced that what we bring to the table will make a significant impact on the business and for the good of the world.

Seek out other Smugglers for true collaboration

Smuggling is a team sport. Invisible networks, like invisible rivers, allow the movement of fresh knowledge and political influence to help other Smugglers.

Smugglers understand value very quickly.

When you meet a fellow Smuggler on the inside of a corporation, you will see quickly that they too have been analyzing better ways of doing things and are usually grateful that they aren’t alone in thinking in such radical ways.

Smugglers exist at all levels of an organization. However, they usually are isolated and don’t realize there are other Smugglers just like them in the company.

It is a Smuggler’s responsibility to seek out these networks and help other Smugglers when they can. Smugglers are the catalysts of change. We make things happen.

This is how we attract other Smugglers, but it is also how we become radioactive to those who want to maintain the status quo.

A Smuggler’s Core Virtue - Hope

In cell division, there is a protein that maintains the status quo.

But, there is something called anaphase promoting complex (APC) which initiates this protein destruction. Essentially, stuff stops sticking together after APC hits the scene.

Fellow Smugglers, you are the most important part of innovation.

You are the catalyst, the APC inside the corporate machine, disrupting the status quo and creating opportunities for growth.

You are the critical driver of your company’s future.

You, and your fellow Smugglers, are the igniters of hope and inspiration, fighting the forces of the status quo and stagnation at work.

Your true collaborative team is comprised of Smugglers. There is no hierarchy; just people at all levels of the organization who want to get things done.

How you advance your career

Now you know why you are struggling at work. Once you see these hidden reasons, you have a chance to actually get ahead.

Find your fellow Smugglers. They are the ones who will help you advance your career path fast. They see your invisible scars when you describe your efforts to transform the status quo. This is your real team. The tribe that “gets you”.

When you find your fellow Smugglers, these are the ones who help you advance your ideas (and keep you sane). And as you find Smugglers at every level of the organization, you create a “get-er-done” collaborative acceleration network.

You can do it Smuggler. You just need to know which people to find to achieve your goals.

~Natalie Neelan

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The unwritten rules are the only rules

It’s not you. It’s them.