Super Cities №43 — Permissionless Innovation

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

GE’s Beth Comstock on innovation.

A large part of your job is to drive innovation. What’s your best tip?
It really comes down to this thought: Permission granted. Having seen so many change situations in my career, change often starts with ourselves. Every company has people who don’t want to change the way things have been done.
But often people are looking for an alibi to not try something new. And maybe people themselves aren’t willing to do what’s required to make the change. So the message I try to convey is, you have the permission to try something new.


Real innovation — new products or models that change the world — is permissionless.

Those who innovate don’t wait for someone — a boss, professor, colleague, friend, spouse — to grant them space and time to build something new.

Most of all, though, innovation cannot happen without permission from ourselves. There is not a set checklist of things that we must do before we can innovate. There are no innovation How to Get Rich books, no innovation gurus, and no innovation whisperers. There are just people who started and are now putting in the hard work, learning as quickly as possible, and making adjustments in real-time.

If you’re reading this at work, don’t expect your boss to permit you to innovate. Don’t expect your colleague to take you out for a beer to pitch you on innovation. It isn’t going to happen.

Unless you make it happen.

You need to take the lead. You need to decide that you are going to get started — that you will take the most crucial, yet frightening, step on the long, never-ending road of innovation.

So if you’re not innovating, blame yourself.

After you blame yourself, stand upright and dust yourself off. For perhaps the first time in your professional life, you don’t need someone to tell you to do something. You can just … do it.

And once you do it, you will feel an incredible sense of liberation — from permission. It’s a damn good feeling, but no one will grant it to you.

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