Frances Arnold was just named a co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on ‘directed evolution’.
What Frances and her colleagues did was use standard evolutionary processes we’re all used to and accelerate that evolution to develop chemicals for the benefit of mankind.
One of the more interesting aspects of this, however, is that Ms. Arnold has training as a mechanical engineer. She said that this training allowed her to “be able to look at the problem with a fresh set of eyes.” She realized that “the way most people were going about protein engineering was doomed to failure.”
Frances took unique aspects and learnings from a different discipline and applied them to a problem that wasn’t getting solved through traditional methods. She saw a nuance and opportunity to do something different.
She creatively brought forth a best practice to a team to create a transformational new process that enabled people to create revolutionary products.
Are you leading in a manner that encourages people to think differently, search for nuances and mutations, and look to apply them in an environment that can have great impact?
You may believe the chances of your organization doing something Nobel-worthy may be small. If we restrict that definition to those areas the Nobel committees give awards, then the answer is almost exclusively yes. However, if we define Nobel-worthy as coming up with ideas and processes that can transform how you serve the organization and customers – even in small ways, then the chances increase substantially.
Seeing your challenges and opportunities as Ms. Ardold did is a great way to enable transformation. If you look to do this as an exercise for yourself, terrific. If you, as a leader, choose to start and practice such a process, that could lead to some solid results. However, if the organization is not set to receive the ideas you come up with and leverage them, will those ideas flounder? THe trick is to work on spreading such a creativity culture organization-wide.
Organizations that encourage and foster a culture of searching for nuances and mutations in order to develop novel ideas can accelerate alignment and performance greatly. This may take time, depending on where you are currently at, but each step will bring benefits.
Unleashing the power and capability of those in your organization, no matter what their specific role happens to be, can put you on a different plane. Each person has unique experiences perspectives, allowing that to flourish instead of keeping people ‘in their lane’ can reap great benefits – even a Nobel.
Congratulations to Frances Arnold, George P. Smith and Gregory P. Winter for their great work and accomplishments.