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Innovation Blog

Do You Know the Difference Between Height and Weight ? A Prayer for Innovators

By Shlomo Maital 





  Reinhold Niebuhr

   “G-d grant me courage to try to change what can change, serenity to accept what cannot,  and wisdom to know the difference.”  –   Reinhold Niebuhr, 1937

   Recently  I took part in a program whose front end featured a talk by Joseph Ackerman, CEO of Elbit Industries, a leading Israeli defense contractor.  Ackerman spoke about innovation in management, his own philosophy, and illustrated his approach with the H W principle.

    On the screen he showed a large “H” and a large “W”.  “H” stands for height.   You can do nothing about your height, he explained. You are born with it, it is determined by your genes.  Accept it, live with it.  “W” stands for weight.  You CAN do something about your weight.  If you are underweight, you can fatten up.  If you are overweight, you can exercise and slim.  It is not easy, but it is possible. 

     In innovation and in management, he explained,  it is hard sometimes to tell the difference between “H” and “W”.  What can be changed, and should?  What cannot be changed and must be accepted?   If you waste energy on “H” problems or issues, you will have insufficient resources for “W” problems. 

     In his brilliant 1993 book[1], psychologist Martin Seligman cites conclusive evidence that “W” (weight), too, needs not courage but serenity.  In truth, weight is very hard to change.  Studies show obese people in general consume no more calories than the rest of us. And a huge proportion of those who diet and lose weight gain it all back within a couple of years. An enormous diet and diet food industry exists that perpetuates the myth of weight loss.   So, Seligman notes, “W” is probably in the “H” category.  The title of his chapter is sardonic:  A Waist is a Terrible Thing to Mind.

    I think the H-W distinction is crucial for innovators.  Innovation begins with a deep passion to change the world, by identifying major issues or problems or needs that must be solved or met.  The goal of the innovator must be big enough to be meaningful but not so huge as to be unachievable – in other words, “W” rather than “H”.  And knowing the difference is very very difficult.   Jim Collins’ BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal – must  be not so audacious as to be unachievable.  Perhaps it should be called Big WARY  Audacious Goal, BWAG, instead of  Big HAIRY Audacious Goal  (to stress the W rather than the H).

     Some 73 years ago, the German Protestant theologist Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the famous Serenity Prayer in one of his newsletters.   I would like to propose a different version, the Innovators’ Prayer:

      Lord,  give me courage, passion and creativity to innovate what can and must be innovated; serenity to accept what cannot be innovated; and wisdom to tell the difference.     

[1] Martin E.P. Seligman, WHAT YOU CAN CHANGE…AND WHAT YOU CAN’T: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement,  Fawcett Columbine: New York, 1993.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
September 2010
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