Let's talk about why you don't have more upside at work. Whether you know it or not, you're playing it safe. You're either waiting for permission to do something innovative or rationalizing that your plans to be innovative would never be approved.
"It's just too risky for this company", you say. "It wouldn't be supported".
Who cares whether it would be supported or not? Oh yeah, I forgot. YOU'RE the one who cares, because you're comfortable playing it safe. Status quo, maybe you complain/whine/bitch about how things are and if you were only appreciated, you could make a difference.
Lame. The people you complain/whine/bitch with? They don't want you to do more. They want to packed in with you from a performance standpoint, with everyone average. Like a union, where everyone's the same unless you have more tenure.
The problem with that is it's all rationalization so you don't have to put yourself out there and do something different. I was reminded of this humanity play as I read Linchpin by Seth Godin. Check out Seth's quote from this volume on how to make yourself indispensable:
"My boss won't let me" - Of course she won't. Why would she? You're saying, "I want to do some crazy thing, and if it doesn't work, I want you to take all the blame. Of course, if it does work, I'll get the credit. Okay?". No, not okay. Nothing in this book argues that you need the perfect boss to become indispensable. I'm saying that if you become indispensable, you'll discover that you get a better boss."
That's a brilliant piece of writing. The problem isn't the boss, it's you. I'd go a step further and say that conversation with the boss never happens. 95% of the time, you make that rationalization before you talk to the boss, when the reality is that most of the stuff you're thinking about wouldn't cause a problem. You want to experiment? Most companies are fine with that as long as the regular work gets done.
So stop rationalizing and whining. The next time you find yourself in whine/bitch mode, do the American economy, your family and you a favor and stop - and start a project on your own time that will make a difference if you deliver. Then deliver it.
If you're company doesn't appreciate that, I know a couple that do.