In 1920, Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled “The Road Not Taken.” In it, he described a choice in life, whether to take one path or another; whether to go to the right or to the left. And his regret was in the fact that he could not travel along both, for each held its attractions.
He strained his eyes to look as far down each to see where they led, but to no avail. His view was restricted by the undergrowth.
After he had explored the two paths as much as he could, without traveling on either, he eventually chose to take the one less-trodden.
He doesn’t tell us why he took that one, but he points out what we all know: It made all the difference. The result of making that choice governed his life thereafter.
I could have titled this post “Off the Beaten Track.” That would have been equally accurate; but I wanted to show that there really are two paths that companies can take. They either follow the path the everyone else is on, or they travel along the one where they’re unlikely to meet another soul.
You could think of it as the narrow way, and the broad one. The broad one is easily found. There are so many people on it that you couldn’t miss it with your eyes shut.
It’s crowded. You can hear all the noise they’re making.
The less traveled one is quiet. Hardly anyone is there.
The busy path is well-worn. There’s no need for a trailblazer. All of the undergrowth has been removed. In fact, there isn’t any in sight.
The road not taken is difficult to find. If you look carefully, you can just about see where some of it goes; but if you want to take it, you’ll need a machete.
According to David Meerman Scott, the word innovation is so over-used as to mean nothing at all. But if you can remember its original meaning, then you’ll understand that it is still relevant.
Without exception, I use the online thesaurus when I write. In most cases it gives me the synonyms I need to enrich my writing. But in this case, it has let me down. Perhaps that’s a reflection of just how diluted its meaning has become.
The Oxford English Dictionary is more helpful. It refers to “a new method, idea or product.” Maybe that’s the problem. Since there’s nothing new under the sun, we’re simply unable to create something that is.
Napoleon Hill talked about two kinds of innovation. He didn’t call it that, and I can’t remember what he did either. But what I do remember is significant. He said that there are two ways that “new” things are created. The first is by fiat; that is, it is sort of snatched out of the air. It’s not an improvement on anything in existence. The example he provided was Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph. In those days, a wax cylinder was used, rather than the vinyl records that some of us still remember.
The other way was by combining known technologies. It’s worth noting that even “modern” inventions fall into this category. Computers are elaborate TVs, printers are photocopiers that connect to them, and solar panels are just big rechargeable batteries.
The point I’m trying to make is that true innovation comes from creating something that no one else has thought of. The road not taken.
There’s risk involved in doing so. You can’t point to what someone else has done already. You have to make your own path. You have to follow your instincts.
But that’s what leadership is all about. Simply doing what everyone else is doing or has down is following. And it matters not whether you’re in a leadership role or not. If you’re following what others have done or are doing, then that makes you a follower. As Henry David Thoreau said, you’re marching to a different drummer.
True leaders follow the music they hear. They are not distracted by the din of everyone else.
What music do you hear?
What path should you take?
If you really are a leader, then you will take that step of faith; to be different from everyone else.