We all know that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. This was an opening step in the communications revolution that continues today. Before Bell’s invention, long-distance communication was by telegraph using Morse Code. With the telephone, conversations were actually possible with another person hundreds of miles away.  An interesting fact you may not know is that it took an invention from Thomas Edison to make this invention commercially viable.  (To learn more about Edison’s contribution to the phone click here

I thought about Alexander Bell the other day while attending a sporting event. At half time, I looked around the arena.  At least twenty people in my section alone were on their smart phones texting, twittering, taking pictures.  One man was even talking on his phone. I was impressed not only with the phones, but also with the invisible network that allows thousands of people to be connected to it in a relatively small place. I wondered what Bell would think of this.

We have come a long way from his relatively simple invention. I think that Bell would have liked how his invention has evolved and all that has come of it. He once stated, “Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before. Follow it up, explore all around it, and before you know it, you will have something worth thinking about to occupy your mind.”  Bell followed his own advice and had many, many more inventions than the telephone.

His words remind us that we often have to leave the familiar path to innovate. While this may seem obvious, it is easier said than done. Sometimes we may think we have left the path when we have just stepped away from our comfort zone. While we may be taking a risk personally, if we’re not careful, we will leave one path only to join a well-worn path forged by others. 

So when should we leave our path?  I have two suggestions for you to consider.

    1. Leave the path when you are looking for new solutions
    If we keep reading the same books, magazines, and blogs in our own industry we are going to stay on the same path. Don’t be afraid to look to other sources of information that may not seem relevant for your answers. It may lead you to a place that no one has been before.
    2. Leave the path when you are applying solutions
    Sometimes new innovative direction comes from doing something familiar in a new way. By looking at approaches outside our industry, for example, we learn how others are doing something and  discover it could work for us.

So next time that you look down and see that your trail is turning into a rut, it’s probably time to get off the path. You may find something you have never seen before and didn’t even realize you were looking for it.