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Blog: The Innovator's Dilemma

Blog: The Innovator's Dilemma

Innovative ideas are not popular; it takes hard times to open our minds to innovative ideas. When things are going well enough there is no need to be innovative because innovation means moving outside our comfort zone; so why would we? If you are an innovator now is the best of times. But you need to be tough because you will cause discomfort and you will not popular (at first).

With all the talk about innovation we make it sound like anyone can be an innovator. Don’t believe it. Your most successful innovations in the long run will make you most unpopular in the short run. You’ll upset the established order and cause discomfort to those who depend on the established order. Don’t look for approval; be an innovator only because you have to be. And be tough enough to handle the disapproval of those you threaten.

Here are a couple of quotes from an innovator in the arts (real innovation is an art, not a science). His name was Jean Cocteau. He innovated in poetry, writing, design, theater, and filmmaking. He made himself unpopular in the short run and kept on doing what he did anyway (because he was different and he had to). In the long run he became famous.

He said, "Anything of importance cannot help but be unrecognizable, since it bears no resemblance to anything already known." So don't confuse innovation with merely making incremental improvements to existing ways of doing things.

He also suggested: "Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Note carefully just what it is about your work that the critics don't like - then cultivate it. That's the part of your work that's individual and worth keeping." Do you believe in what you are doing enough to persevere in the face of withering criticism?

Beware of so called innovators who become very popular very quickly - their easy popularity is a red flag that whatever they are doing is anything but innovative

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