Realities of innovation

June 7, 2020
Ten realities of innovation vs. myths

Far too much of what we know about creativity isn’t based on facts at all. 

A summary of 10 realities of innovation:


1. Flashes of insight or great spontaneous ideas rarely create innovation.  

All ideas are made from other ideas. Also, a great idea alone will not find investors usually. Make prototypes, sacrifice free time or persist in the face of rejection.

2. Technological progress does not move in a straight line.

History is not a straight line of progress: it wasn’t clear that B would follow A, until after they happened, which means the present isn’t a straight line of progress either. Edison did not invent the lightbulb, and Ford did not invent the assembly line (These are inspiring lies).

3. There is no method for market success. 

The challenge with creative work, especially in a marketplace, is the many factors beyond your control. You can do everything right and still fail. The idea of an innovation portfolio, where a range of risk is assumed across multiple ideas, is more honest.

4. People resist change, including progress.

The history of breakthroughs is a tale of persistence against rejection. Much of what makes a successful innovator is their ability to persuade and convince conservative people of the merits of their ideas, a very different skill from creativity itself. Ideas are rejected because of how they make people feel. Your ability to pitch ideas is of matter.

5. We overstate individual contributions and under-recognized teams.

Stories of mad geniuses who worked entirely alone are rare. But even people worthy of the title genius had teachers who taught them. Or they shared patents with co-workers.

6.  Good ideas are everywhere, it’s courage that’s scarce.

We are built for creativity. The problem is the conventions of adult life demand conformity, and we sacrifice our creative instincts in favor of social status. What’s uncommon is people with the conviction to put their reputation behind ideas.

7. People in charge often resist change.

To rise in power demands good political judgement, yet innovation requires a willingness to defy convention. Convention-defiers are harder to promote in most organizations, yet essential for progress.

8. It is not the best idea that wins.

Marketing, politics, and timing have a tremendous influence on why one idea or its competitors wins, yet these details are more complex than we want to hear and fade from history.

9. Defining problems well is as important as solving them.

The impatient run at full speed into solving things, speeding right past the insights needed to find a great solution. Successful creators spend more time thinking about the problem than the media would have us believe.

10. Unintended consequences are hard to avoid.

All innovation is change, and all change helps some people and hurts others. Many horrible inventions were created with the best intentions (and some horrible intentions led to some good consequences).

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