John HillmanBy CCI guest blogger and client, John R. Hillman, Chairman and CEO, HCB, Inc.

Innovation is not predictable and cannot be contrived. There can be circumstances that lend the opportunity for creative ideas, but at best, the evolution of a new idea appears to be somewhat random. Regardless, throughout history, nature has demonstrated that change is inevitable. Eckhart Tolle exemplifies this in his book A New Earth, where he observes:

“Most crawling reptilians, the most earthbound of all creatures, have remained unchanged for millions of years. Some, however, grew feathers and wings and turned into birds, thus defying the force of gravity that had held them for so long. They didn’t become better at crawling of walking, but transcended crawling and walking entirely.”

It’s hard to imagine what the circumstances were that resulted in this paradigm shift, but no doubt it was directly related to the very survival of a species. If nothing else, it offers a lesson in the value of accepting change and opening our minds to a different way of doing things. This is not easy for us to accept, particularly as we advance in years. It is too easy to become so attached to our own identity that we don’t want to accept there could be different ways of solving the same problem. Without this self-awareness, new ideas may never surface or come to fruition. Edward De Bono sums up this predicament in his book Serious Creativity, with the following statement:

“Whenever we look at the world we are only too ready to see the world in terms of our existing patterns…this is also why the analysis of information will not yield new ideas…The brain can only see what it is prepared to see, i.e. existing patterns, so when we analyze data we can only pick out the idea we already have.”

Many times existing patterns are the appropriate solution, but they seldom offer opportunity for growth. Regardless, there is really nothing constraining us from thinking differently and creating our own paradigm shifts. When I came up with the idea for the HCB in 1996, it wasn’t in an effort to become better at crawling or walking. It was very much an exercise in thinking beyond the existing patterns of conventional structural design to see if a new idea could take flight.

I never imagined HCB would evolve into an international company and we would actually have 18 bridges either in service or under construction with unlimited potential for growth. In fact, for the first 10 years it was almost inconceivable even to build a prototype bridge as a proof of concept. I just thought it would be cool to develop an innovative structural member that would result in a better way to build bridges. The journey has not been easy, but it has been tremendously rewarding. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing and I’m glad I took the risks.

Not everyone will be an innovator. Not everyone will want to follow an innovator. But there is a sense of exhilaration in viewing the world from a slightly higher perch. We may not learn to fly, but if the reptiles could do it, why not try?