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Making innovation happen means smuggling (2/3)

See part 1 here

Warriors on the Dark Side of Innovation: Meet the Smugglers

The dark side of innovation is where difficult and dangerous work resides. And it requires a special type of individual who can persuade people to open their minds. I call these people Smugglers.

Smugglers are fearless. They choose not to relax with groups or communities that seek safety of business-as-usual. Smugglers want to kill business as usual. We are dividers. Breakers. We unhinge old beliefs.

Innovation image concept 2
Smuggling is neither done through PowerPoint, nor email.

Smuggling is neither done through PowerPoint, nor email. Unlike computer networks, which are physically open to a larger wired world, our nervous system is built from private computers, physically isolated from one another. Smugglers ignite one mind at a time. We minimize fear one mind at a time. Every chance we get. A Smuggler’s mission is to ignite movements without being politically ‘outed’ and neutralized…or killed.

Smugglers cause disruption. We open the eyes and stimulate the minds of people who didn’t know they were blind and stagnant.


  • Create an underground resistance to the “same old same old” because we believe we need to change to be competitive
  • Minimize the fear of the new
  • Seed thoughts of hope, in different places, so that when others get together they share in the same vision
  • Make new ideas popular, with a smile and encouragement that it’s cool to back the idea
  • Suffer, and oh how we suffer, the obstinacy of those who aren’t capable of connecting the dots
  • Tell the right part of the story to the right person at the right time
  • Give unconditionally in an un-giving culture
  • Collaborate with those who will collaborate, and team together to advance solutions
  • Are willing to be vulnerable and admit when we don’t know the answers
  • Are lonely in our view of the world
  • Are convinced that what we bring to the table will make a significant impact on the business and for the good of the world.

Smuggling Operations

Smuggling is a team sport. Invisible networks, like invisible rivers, allow the movement of fresh knowledge and political influence to help other Smugglers.

Smugglers are always seeking these invisible rivers, also called the “invisible sanity network”: the team of like-minded people who believe there is a better way.

Steve Jobs 2
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” Steve Jobs

The first thing a Smuggler needs to transport is the awareness of pain. Enabling the collective hive to notice and experience the pain is very challenging and requires a multi-front strategy. Sometimes it is necessary to illuminate (or even stimulate) some pain – with the help of these hidden networks – in order to make people aware that it exists and causes risk to the company.

Smugglers understand value very quickly. When you meet a fellow Smuggler on the inside of a corporation, you will see quickly that they too have been analyzing better ways of doing things and are usually grateful that they aren’t alone in thinking in such radical ways.

Smugglers exist at all levels of an organization. However, they usually are isolated, and don’t realize there are other Smugglers just like them in the company. It is a Smuggler’s responsibility to seek out these networks, and help other Smugglers when they can. Smugglers are the catalysts of change. We make shit happen.

To an outside vendor who is trying to work with a large corporation, Smugglers are allies who see not only how a product or service can help in the big picture of the company, but also a path to adoption through internal political forces. Smugglers help navigate currents that vendors cannot see, flowing beneath superficially calm waters.

Entrepreneurs, you are the big picture creators of hope and vision in the innovation ecosystem!

Entrepreneurs, you are the big picture creators of hope and vision in the innovation ecosystem! Smugglers know that you work around the clock to give us exactly what we need and are dying for. Trust your Smugglers, as we are fighting on the front lines to bring your vision into the organization. Betray a Smuggler at your own risk. This is mind-to-mind combat. This is the dark side of innovation, where many battles are fought that you know nothing about. (We work hard to protect you from that knowledge. Fear is the enemy of innovation.)

Conformist Hacking

Change, enlightenment, engagement happens one mind at a time, but a smart Smuggler knows not all minds are ready to be blown away with new ideas.

A smart Smuggler learns an individual’s motivators. Is it internal recognition or fear of internal ridicule if the idea fails? Is it ambition, or wanting to stay below the radar because you have kids on their way to college and you can’t afford risk a change in your lifestyle?

For some, Smugglers inspire a wonderful vision for the future. For others, they go to great pains to minimize and explore fears (again and again and again). The purpose is always for good. Throw a block to allow change to happen, sometimes run or throw the ball, and sometimes be the ball! It may require finesse, or a bludgeon. It always requires a team.

Smugglers trust without expecting reciprocation. We know that in order to succeed risks must be taken, and we exercise our own right to take risks by identifying that our thoughts diverge from business as usual. This is how we attract other Smugglers, but it is also how we become radioactive to those who want to remain conformists.

Code language of the business conformist:

  • No
  • It will never be a priority
  • I don’t have resources
  • That’s not the way we do things here
  • The VP will never approve this
  • I struggle to understand why we would do this
  • Welcome to (fill in your company name here)


Author : Natalie Sweeney


Further readings

  • For a better understanding of the oppositions between innovation and corporation, read this.
  • For a discussion about disruptive innovation, see here.
  • For an introduction to Innovation Pirates, please refer here

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