Innovation Meets Rehab

Steve in rehab
Steve in Rehab

Those of you who know me personally know that I had a freak accident, broke 2 elbows and 1 knee, and have been in rehab for weeks (with plenty more to go). This morning as I coped with my body not working the way it used to, I thought about how that applies to business innovators.

As unexpected change occurs in your markets, customers, operations, business setting, or competitive landscape, your old ways can stop working – triggering the need for change and innovation.

Your business solution can borrow much from the world of physical rehab. Here are some lessons I’ve learned so far as I change my behavior to cope with the accident.

Heal First

Make sure your fundamentals are solid before you start to change. I can’t bear weight on my arms. I have to heal my elbows first. Once they are healed, I can start to work on improving the upper body strength I’ll need.

Your business may need to make some adjustments to bring your operations and financials in line before you initiate a new innovation campaign. Turnaround professionals know this intuitively, and they also know this is emotionally hard for business owners. But, without healing first, businesses trying to innovate can just make their operations worse, just as I’d wreck my elbows even more.

Get Help

For the time being, I live in a rehab facility. A nursing staff looks after my health, sending me back to my surgeon when necessary. Aides help me do the daily activities I can’t do for myself. Physical therapists help me reboot my broken joints. All are skilled, trained professionals. They help with the very basics (since I am non-weight-bearing, I can’t move myself) and do that in a professional, medically safe way. Beyond that they have plans in place that they know will work to rehab me. If I tried to do any of this on my own, I’d fail. I don’t have the knowledge or experience.

The same hold true for businesses. Experienced mentors, coaches. and turnaround professionals can help you. It’s what they do. Get their help.

Use What You Have

I now eat with my left hand (I’m right handed). My left elbow has more range of motion than my right. Even though I have professionals to help, a number one rehab goal is to begin doing things for yourself. At the very first, when I could only move my arms inches, I was fed. But to rehab, I knew i had to feed myself. It was clear that my right arm wasn’t going to get there any time soon. So I worked on using my left. I used what would work. It wasn’t pretty or traditional, but it worked.

In your business, you may need to find new ways or work-arounds. Look around you, find the resources you have, remember back to your early entrepreneurial days when you didn’t have so many resources available, and try something different.


Every day I do stretches to improve the range of motion in my elbows and knee. Sometimes the therapists assist with the basic stretches and invent devious new exercises that stretch me and exercise my core. Each day I walk (assisted) a little farther. Little by little I could see how the small improvements added up and allowed me to do something I couldn’t yesterday. My professional help could always see it before I could, by the way.

Your business’s strength and flexibility will not make huge leaps overnight. But huge improvement will come over time – in small increments. As long as you do the work and make the stretch, that is. And especially with the help of professionals who know the right “stretches” and milestones to look for.

Celebrate Small Successes

I remember the wonderful feeling when I put that first bit of food in my mouth by myself with my left hand. I remember the first time i could touch my nose with my right thumb, the first time I could take a t-shirt off and put it back on by myself. And yes, I did post about them to social media. The encouraging feedback I received was wonderful and spurred me on (thanks, everybody). Update – since I started writing this, I can now feed myself nearly all of the time with my right hand. Small successes build on one another.

When your business starts to see some successes from change or innovation, your friends and customer base will provide encouragement. So should you! Make a point to be aware of the changes you are achieving, no matter how small. Besides being your own cheerleader, you will be surprised about how many people (customers, vendors, partners) care about your business!

Take Time

Rehab timelines are often measured by the weeks or months it will take to “get you out of here and back home.” Friends wish you a speedy recovery. I tell them I don’t want that. I don’t want to go home until I can do it quite safely. Healed enough and strong enough that I won’t just re-injure myself. I want to live with the professional rehab staff until that time comes – why wouldn’t I?

My long term goal is very different. I have decided to take a full year to build my strength, flexibility, balance, and cardio to the point where I surpass how active I was when I was injured. I was in decent shape then (body weight fitness, light dumbbells, and 2-4 miles of walking each day). Now I see that a commitment to rehab will morph at some point into a commitment to training. I don’t want to call it quits just when rehab has made me somewhat functional. I want a brand new stronger me. I already know the equipment I’ll need, programs I’ll join, and people who I want to help me as I train.

The same should be true for your business. Your goal should be to build an even-more powerful company – not just find a new way to “get by”. At some point you will feel that rehab is done – and that is exactly when you will make the shift from rehab to training (shameless plug – I do offer innovation technique training). Like me, you might start planning at the very start for what you’ll need to carry your company far beyond what it was when you started your innovation meets rehab challenge! Good luck to you!

Published by Steve

I write and train about innovation, empowering entrepreneurs to build a better tomorrow.

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