(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

One of the topics that comes up often in the classes I teach is the difference between invention and innovation. The way I explain it, invention is a state of potential. You have a novel idea, or process, or technology, and it is complete in and of itself. But that invention doesn’t become an innovation until it’s connected with the people and situations and contexts who can benefit from its existence. Because there are so many contexts, one invention can yield hundreds or thousands of innovations:

Invention + Context of Use = Innovation

The reason why we started the Burning Mind Project was to inspire people to share their gifts, especially in the context of higher ed. And thanks to a recent blog post by fantasy author Justine Musk, I now recognize that there’s a similarity between the challenges that organizations face when they’re trying to innovate, and the challenges individuals might face in making the most of their gifts! Although the basis for her post is the notion of unleashing feminine ambition (and I don’t agree with many of her premises), I find that her consideration of individual gifts is illuminating:

I think now of Stephen Cope’s definition of dharma. Dharma, he writes, “is a potent Sanskrit word that is packed tight with meaning” such as path, teaching or law.

For his own purposes he defines dharma primarily as vocation or sacred duty.

The idea that you can be anybody you want to be – whether you’re a man or a woman – is a popular cultural myth. You arrive in this world encoded with certain gifts – and certain limitations. You can identify and develop these gifts and find ways of circumventing your limitations in order to become, not anyone, but fully who you already are.

You come home to your true self.

Above all, Cope stresses that dharma means truth. To fulfill your dharma is to live out your personal truth.

But dharma is twofold. It’s not enough to express and develop your gifts.

You must take your gifts into the world in order to serve and contribute. (What good is a cure for cancer if you keep it to yourself?) How you do this depends on the call of the times: the context, your context, of time and place and events. Part of discovering your dharma is listening for that call and the willingness to hear it in the first place.

Dharma also shifts and changes as your own life changes: the quest to fulfill your dharma might not happen just once, but multiple times throughout your lifetime. There might be a point where you say that you don’t have the time or energy or space or money or youth; dharma says none of that matters. No excuses. It is your sacred duty to completely and utterly embody your own unique brand of dharma.


You can’t be anyone you want to be… you have to be fully yourself, take your gifts into the world, seek a context (or multiple contexts) in which those gifts can be used. Most importantly, since the contexts are always changing around you, as a result you are changing, and so this is a neverending process.

Discovering your dharma, as described here, can thus be considered the path of the innovator.

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One Response to Your Gifts: The Path of the Innovator

  1. […] To become your most powerful, you have to fully become WHO YOU ARE.  […]

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