501cTech, Innovation & Richard Pryor
A few years ago, I heard Jon Stewart refer to George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor as the holy trinity of stand-up comedy. As a huge fan of stand-up, I was interested in his assertion. I've loved Carlin since I was a kid so I totally agreed with that statement, and in college I wrote a paper for "America in the 60's" on Lenny Bruce so I could appreciate that too. But I really didn't know Richard Pryor's stand-up work.
So to see what Stewart was talking about, I rented 1979's "Richad Pryor: Live in Concert", and watched it - twenty-some years after it was taped.
And what was my reaction to Pryor's stand-up?
Eh. I didn't love it. It was funny, but it didn't wow me. I'd heard plenty of comics do material about what it was like to be a black guy, but whereas guys like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, would have a white guy like me rolling on the ground, Richard Pryor didn't feel all that special.
And then I realized why Pryor was so incredible - because he was the first.
I was viewing this from the perspective of having watched black comedians on TV nearly all my life. I grew up with Good Times, the Huxtables, Eddie Murphy, the Jeffersons - all shows and people who presented all sorts of aspects of the lives of black people in comic ways. I'd watched tons of black comics on HBO's Comedy-Hour, Evening at the Improv, Comedy Central. The subject matter was now the norm.
What put Richard Pryor on the holy trinity of stand-ups wasn't just his rhythm, timing, cadence orstory-telling skills. It was that he was saying things that had never been said until that point. He was performing to audiences that were just as white as they were black and he was talking about being a black man in a way that they'd never, ever been exposed to. About how it's hard to be black, how it's funny. He was presenting life from the perspective of a black man, in a post Civil Rights-era world where everyone could relate to and understand him even if they didn't necessarily view life from that prism.
Innovation: No Rules. You know it when you see it.
A short time after innovation takes place, we take it for granted. We are inundated with copies and variations to the point that we forget how groundbreaking it was when it debuted.
This month, 501cTech is accepting submissions for its 2014 Technology Innovation Awards and it has me super excited. Innovation can come from anywhere. It doesn't have to be from expensive R&D. It doesn't have to be well-positioned and connected organizations. Richard Pryor came from literally nowhere to change the world by doing something that had never been done, but just felt natural to his purpose.
He showed that innovation comes from nowhere and is attributable to being true to yourself. It's about figuring out, not what everyone else is doing, but what you WANT to create that isn't already there and not getting caught up in why it isn't already.
Nonprofit innovators can be the same.
I can't wait to see what comes through this contest. In a few years, we'll probably take for granted whatever innovation comes out of it. But right now, there is something different that no one has ever done in the nonprofit world and has never seen that may just change the course of how nonprofits do things forever.
Got a nonprofit technology innovation to submit? Click here to apply