What Everyday Innovators Can Learn From Fresh Salsa

Words like ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’ can feel overwhelming and out of reach. Too often, we think an idea must change the world or have a billion-dollar value in order to count.

Instead of establishing an impossibly high minimum threshold, let’s think of innovation more like fresh, delicious salsa: mild, medium, and spicy. A flavor option for each of us.

Let’s start with the spicy version – INNOVATION (all caps). This is the big stuff, the world-changing inventions we celebrate in the media. Inventing the electric guitar was an INNOVATION. Digging the Panama Canal, INNOVATION. The combustion engine? Yep. INNOVATION. We’re talking life-altering, history-making, legendary innovation. Movable type. Penicillin. Wireless communications.

But something doesn’t need to reshape history to be innovative. One double-click beneath INNOVATION is Innovation (capital I). Think of this as your medium-spicy salsa – important ideas that each of us may discover once or twice a year, not once in one hundred lifetimes. Maybe it’s a new product offering that helps boost revenue 28 percent in just six months. Or a new production process that creates a 13 percent cost savings. Capital I Innovations are juicy and meaningful even though they may not have books written about them by future generations.

And then there’s the mild-flavored, often-bullied innovation (all lower case). I refer to these micro-innovations as Big Little Breakthroughs. While I adore these petite powerhouses, lowercase innovation can be dismissed as not valuable or potent enough. A lowercase innovation might be reimagining the way you conduct a job interview, refining the process to submit an expense report, or discovering a faster route to work.

Small but mighty, it turns out that 72% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product comes from these Big Little Breakthroughs, from everyday people creating everyday innovations.

As the most overlooked and underutilized of the innovation family, these bite-sized sparks are the pound-for-pound champions. They are less risky, easier to discover, and faster to implement. They cost less and are accessible to us all. They stack nicely and build upon each other, adding up to large wins over time. And if you really want to develop an all-caps INNOVATION, the best way to get there is to hone your skills through practice on a large number of lowercase innovations.

Let’s stop thinking of ourselves as lacking innovation simply because we haven’t patented 193 inventions or launched a billion-dollar company. And let’s not fall into the trap of thinking we aren’t creative because our first attempt at art didn’t rival Frida Kahlo or Salvador Dalí. Instead, let’s celebrate all levels of creativity and innovation, realizing that the more we cultivate little ideas, the greater our breakthroughs will become.

Great innovation — just like great salsa — comes in many flavors and varieties. The more we expand our palate to enjoy each style, the more we’ll savor the delicious outcomes we seek.