Leadership and the Ingenuity Factor


Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. – General George S. Patton

As with many innovations, the originator of 3M’s sticky yellow Post-its didn’t know what he had at first. Researcher Spence Silver was curious about what would happen if he mixed an unusual amount of monomer into a polymer-based adhesive he was working on. The result was an adhesive that would tack one piece of paper to another and even restick, without leaving any residue on the second piece of paper.

The company had no use for the new adhesive until 3M chemist Arthur Fry began having problems in the choir loft. The slips of paper he used to mark pages in his hymnal often fluttered to the floor, leaving him frantically searching for his place. Then he remembered Silver’s adhesive. Fry’s better bookmark soon metamorphosed into the handy Post-it that has become a fixture in offices worldwide.

Necessary within any organization is a certain level of ingenuity that will help others make new discoveries, elevate the whole team, and position you for greater success. Leaders ought to promote and encourage ingenuity at every level for maximum benefit. Here are three keys to understanding ingenuity within your organization and why it matters.

Ingenuity originates with curiosity

It was because Silver was curious about what would happen by mixing the chemicals that he stumbled upon the ingredients that would one day make the Post-it notes. Fostering an atmosphere and attitude of ingenuity in your workplace is what will help lead you to new and improved discoveries. It was Albert Einstein who said, “Never lose a holy curiosity”, and that is how curiosity works. It’s as you promote a healthy curiosity and using its momentum to your advantage.  Don’t settle for the ordinary and never allow your team to be comfortable with the status quo. Smart leaders embrace the power and possibilities of the curious and recognize it as a healthy ingredient for your success.

Ingenuity evolves through experimentation

Silver’s experimentations lead to a revolutionary discovery. Without his experimentations it never would have come into existence. As a leader you will never know the possibilities before you until you dare to step out of your comfort zone unleash an attitude of ingenuity in your people. When you do, there will be failures and there will be successes. But your progress will never be realized unless ingenuity is allowed to flourish. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Give your people permission to experiment and see how they will surprise you. Failure is not your downfall when it comes to ingenuity; failure is not allowing ingenuity to run its full course and giving up too soon.

Ingenuity serves a greater purpose.

Arthur Fry was frustrated with an unsatisfactory way of marking pages in the hymnals when he remembered Silver’s adhesive. As a result he made what is now known as Post-it notes and the rest they say is history. The power of ingenuity can improve the quality of people lives, create new opportunities, and serve greater purposes. It’s when people understand that their ingenuity is a gift and when empowered to use it they can change the world. Think of the great discoveries of the past 100 years that we benefit from now because people were not restrained in their own thinking and dared to step out of the shadows of their limitations. Be it antibiotics, the personal computer, sliced bread, the television, mobile phones, the internet, etc. it all began with unbridled ingenuity.

Ingenuity is the fuel of your organization. It is one of your greatest resources as a leader. Utilize it, promote it, and welcome it. Your next big idea or breakthrough could be one curiosity away from reality.

What do you say?


© 2013 Doug Dickerson

If you enjoy reading the Leadership Minute you will especially enjoy reading Doug’s books, Leaders Without Borders & Great Leaders Wanted! Go to the top of the page to order your books today.

About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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