Renowned philosopher and visionary R. Buckminster Fuller started his classic Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth with this analogy:
“I am enthusiastic over humanity’s extraordinary and sometimes very timely ingenuities. If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top.”
Fuller then observed:
“I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s contriving as constituting the only means for solving a problem. Our brains deal exclusively with special-case experiences.”
Fuller (1895-1983) is one of the 20th century’s great and certainly most prolific inventors. You might even say he invented the big idea. According to various sources, his professions and titles include inventor, theorist, architect, engineer, author, professor, designer, philosopher, futurist and his preferred “property of the universe.” He was a pioneer in global thinking, exploring principles of renewable and efficient energy, sustainability and human survival.
Fuller’s favorite subjects, survival and innovation, are especially popular in today’s shark-infested business environment where you must keep moving forward or die. While “innovation” is often featured prominently at management retreats, board meetings and annual conferences, the discussions and ideas don’t necessarily translate to action.
There are multiple unfortunate examples of industries “clinging to a great many piano tops.” The recording industry failed to adequately respond to digital music. Others, arguably over-confident in their experience, scale and reputation, also failed to seize opportunities to innovate. Taxi services now must deal with Uber, hoteliers with Airbnb, automakers with Tesla, junk-food manufacturers with healthy eating advocates, the NFL with brain injury and domestic violence concerns.
Aging services is another industry whose survival may very well depend on the implementation of innovative changes. It will be up to the profession’s most ambitious leaders to keep “innovation” from joining the ranks of “synergy,” “diversity,” “transformation” and other hackneyed strategic commitments. And it will begin by moving beyond “yesterday’s contriving.” Consumers certainly are.