Robust is a wonderful word – it comes from the Latin ‘robustus’ meaning ‘firm and hard’ which, in turn, derives from ‘robus’ meaning ‘oak or strength’. When applied to a person, an animal or a thing, it makes us think of something strong and sturdy, especially with regard to physique or construction. When applied to exercise or discipline, it makes us think of something vigorous, requiring substantial strength. When applied to intellect or mental attitude, it means straightforward – not given to nor confused by subtleties. And when applied to a statement or a reply, it relates to something bold, firm and unyielding, as in “He delivered a robust defence.”

Already, we can see why being robust is such an important attribute to anyone involved in innovation. As an innovator, there will be many times when you will be:

  • Knocked back: you offer this great idea and the person on the receiving end is just not interested;
  • Put down: your idea is ridiculed – worse, you are ridiculed, because so many people find it difficult to separate the idea from the person;
  • Resisted: people know your idea is a good one but it is a departure from the familiar and, out of nowhere, all sorts of delaying tactics come into play;
  • Thought of as a troublemaker: because you are always suggesting different ways of doing things – why can’t you just leave things alone?

I could go on. Robust is what we need to stay true to our goal, to stick with it, to get on and do what needs to be done, regardless of the obstacles that we encounter. Robust is that indomitable spirit that sets innovators aside from those that would defend the status quo.

The notion that Robust is the oak in the forest is a wonderful metaphor. I finished my schooling in a town called Hamilton, 15 miles south of Glasgow. Not far from where I lived was an amazing place called the High Parks – the place where, in times gone by, the Duke of Hamilton and his entourage used to hunt and fish and spend recreational time. And in the middle of this estate are a number of gnarled old oak trees. They were planted by King Alexander I of Scotland sometime around the beginning of the 12th Century. They are wonderful things to behold. Enormous, strong trunks that could resist anything that nature might throw at them. Thick bark that protects the more vulnerable wood behind. Living, growing things that have seen the centuries come and go – and will, no doubt see many more to come. This is the sort of strength that we can only dream of – we can, nonetheless, emulate these grand old oaks and take in our stride whatever our innovation activities throw at us.