Agree or Not, You Can Learn a Thing or Two About Innovation From "Lean In"

Photo by Roy Yap

Photo by Roy Yap

Lean In. Just two small words, yet they've quickly evoked many a conversation. I admit, I haven't read the book yet, but a little exposure goes a long way in terms of giving you something to chew on.  To sum it up, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, takes the position that, fundamentally, women are  the ones responsible for becoming leaders. Often, when reflecting on the lack of women in leadership roles, many in the industry blame companies, institutions or regulation but Sandberg believes it’s about women making better choices, asking for more, and taking control of their own career paths.

First, I absorbed this viewpoint as a female. I toggled back and forth between the impact of the individual and the impact of the environments around them. The power of each of these is strong, and both can change the other, given the right stimulus and conditions.

Then I considered Lean In from the point of view of an innovation fanatic, at which point I had to chuckle at the thought of the fun experiment Sandberg is challenging us all to take part in. Innovation is all about experimenting to see what works. Bravo, Sandberg – you are gifted at innovation and here’s why:

  • She’s co-creating a solution.  She throws out a prototype, a possibility –“hey, what if one way to consider the challenge of women in leadership is by holding the individual woman accountable for her behavior and choices?” and then allows us react, to make it our own, to build it into something that works for us.
  • She reframed the challenge. To move away from an institutional & societal problem to an individual one is a huge reframe for feminism. Attempting to reframe your challenge is a great place to start and never fails to get you to thinking differently, which is a catalyst for breaking new ground.
  • She leveraged a product into a service. Welcome to the 21st century, where the global economy is 75% services. Sandberg created LeanIn.org with Lean In Circles, encouraging a conversation. Normally, a book is consumed and then put on a shelf or stored in your e-reader in hopes that a few points remain in your noggin. But here, the interpretation and dialogue continue to drive readers to prototype solutions to this challenge.

The innovationist lens inspired me to put a little more focus on the challenge Sandberg presents (constraints often help us break new ground), but she might just want us to do that given the unique arenas we all play in.

So amidst the controversy (often par for the course in innovation), it was fun to step back and reflect on how a single person is bringing a different, innovative mindset to a widespread, complex social challenge. Makes me want to Lean In.

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