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Innovators Build OKC

Innovation is part of the fabric of Oklahoma City, and it has helped drive us forward since our inception. Here’s how to create more innovators to keep us going.

Innovators are the new rock stars. Magazine covers used to be full of musicians and celebrities. But times have changed. Innovators are the people we want to be and the people we want to be connected to.

At our core, OKC is a city built by innovators for innovators. In his book, The Oklahomans, John Dwyer describes the DNA of the place we call home:

“Before the Trail of Tears, before the War Between the States, before the land runs and statehood and Dust Bowl, before the world wars and oil booms and busts and the OKC Bombing and Moore tornadoes, there were others who came to present-day Oklahoma. It seems the Sooner State has always been the land of the second — or third or last — chance for people from other places.”

Innovation is part of who we are. The people that make up this community aren’t chasing a new fad of innovation. It’s part of our identity, no matter how we came to call this place home. Some people innovate because they have to. They don’t have another option. Others innovate because they want to. Our community and our history are a combination of both types of stories.

Innovators drive communities.

Innovation happens in community, and it is done for communities. Ideas change and morph over time based on conversations in coffee shops and Slack channels, in machine shops and constructions sites, and in classrooms and kitchens.

Innovation is not defined by an industry. Innovative people and companies can exist in any industry. Sometimes the most innovative are in mature industries that are ripe for disruption.

Innovators keep the pulse.

If you want to understand the health of a city, look at how it views innovation. Communities that are growing and thriving have a healthy view and desire for innovation. They encourage risk taking and are open to disrupting themselves in the pursuit of something better.

Innovation by its nature is disruptive. When innovators are present, expect things to change. If things aren’t changing in a proactive manner, they will change in a reactive way once the innovators have left.

Innovation is a way of being.

I’ve yet to meet an innovator that wakes up each morning and tells themselves, “I need to be innovative today.” It’s not a choice they are making. It’s the default way they see the world. Being innovative and solving problems is baked into the lens through which they view the world. They can’t explain why they did something. It just felt right. They are led by intuition.

Being innovative is a belief about yourself. It’s an assumed character trait. Having an innovative idea is an action. It’s a one-time event that may or may not be able to be repeated.

Act like a child.

If you want to build your innovative capacity, act like a child. Children have a plethora of ideas. They view creativity, make believe and imagination as something to freely explore. At some point in our lives, we can lose this carefree attitude and start to self-mute our ideas. We put questions between our ideas and what they can become.

Spend time in places where you’re challenged. Put yourself in conversations where you leave with more questions than answers. Notice the world around you and ask “what if” questions.

We all have the ability to innovate. Some people have simply had more reps at it.

Bryan Clifton is a serial entrepreneur who is partner and chief strategy officer at Nominee, a branding agency in Oklahoma City.

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