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Jolt #9 – Motivate Innovation by Giving, Not Getting

This Jolt is is an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Debra and William Miller of Values Centered Innovation

Years ago, Tom Chappell and his wife started Tom’s of Maine, a personal care company noted for its innovative natural products… AND for treating customers as real people, not statistics. At one point, he hired some MBAs to guide their next growth phase and the business tripled in size.

But something was seriously lacking and Tom considered leaving his business.

Tom then came across the writings of Martin Buber on the difference between “I-Thou” empathetic relationships and “I-It” impersonal relationships:

  • The I-Thou principle: “What can I contribute?” “How can I connect and serve?” “How can we synergize our interests?”
  • The I-It principle: “How can I get what I want?” “How can I protect myself?” “How can I dominate the outcome?”

Tom exclaimed, “That’s it! We built this company on treating customers as real people, not abstract categories. I have no interest in using people to maximize our gain.” He thus began a complete restoration and rejuvenation of their company culture to guide future growth.

How often do you stop and honestly reflect, as Tom did, on your motivations when you’re innovating? Do you initiate I-Thou or I-It relationships with the people you are innovating with, and for?

What difference would it make if your mindset for innovating was deeply rooted in an I-Thou, heartful connection with people and the planet?

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down and positive energy replaces it.

That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”  

- Steven Covey

This conscious evolution from I-It to I-Thou takes us from self-interest to thoughtfulness, from transactional to transformative relationships. The shift in mindset from getting to giving is not always easy, though.

Doubts may arise, especially in the stress of day-to-day business needs. We may experience an internal purification process.

Seneca, the ancient Roman philosopher, said it best “The highest wealth is the absence of greed.” With persistent, heartful practice we can gain a personal experience of this wisdom.


 Now it's your turn! Try on this Mindset Jolt in your own life and work using the Conscious Innovator® process:

  • Become aware - What is 1 new awareness you have about yourself, others, and your situation?
  • Identify your capability - What is 1 personal value and 1 strength you can draw from and put into practice?
  • Take versatile action - What is 1 action you can take to apply your awareness and capability in ways you have not thought of before?

Make a mindset shift from "Getting" to "Giving"

VCI's course can help your team  supercharge its innovation capabilities

Learn More About Innovation Enablement Paradigms – The Workshop

About the Authors

Debra Miller and William Miller have dedicated their careers to enabling “conscious innovation”. Debra draws from her experience as an IT executive and business coach, while William completed his tenure as Head of Innovation Management at the Stanford Research Institute. Together, they balance inner transformation with mastering new competencies for bringing out the innovative best with “every person, every job, every day.”

Debra Miller and William Miller

Last updated: 21 Jul 2022

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