Thursday, January 14, 2010

How Fast Are You Failing?

From the steam engine to the search engine - everyone loves an innovator.

More than a century ago, you had the likes of Bell, Edison and Ford.

In the fifties, sixties and seventies, it was Disney, Kroc and Walton,

Today, you have Branson, Jobs and those Google guys, named Sergey and Larry.

Changing the world has never been a job for the conventional or easily discouraged. But the problems of our time demand an especially crafty and determined breed of innovator as evidenced by a fascinating research project entitled "The Innovator's DNA." It's a six-year study, involving an in-depth analysis of 25 innovators and a further survey of 3,500 others who were connected to innovation in some way.

So what separates great innovators from the rest of us, you ask?

Five key skills - Associating, Questioning, Observing, Experimenting and Networking.

Two skills in particular stand out - Associating ("the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields") and Questioning ("frequently challenging common wisdom").

Now you might be asking ... "How does this apply to me"?

Your ability to innovate and imagine possibilities for your business or career will only ever equal your ability to ask lots of questions ("why is it always done this way?") and see relationships in seemingly unrelated things.

Most innovators don't hesitate to R & D (Rob & Duplicate) once they see common patters that make uncommon sense from something that has nothing to do with their particular discipline. Borrowing and combining with the best of them, Henry Ford walked into a slaughterhouse one day, saw cattle being moved on a conveyor belt and envisioned the assembly line. Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, took ideas from telecommunications and banking industries and applied them to transportation. Jean Nidetch did not invent the diet she used for Weight Watchers; she ripped off the mutual-support techniques of Alcoholics Anonymous. Ruth Handler based "Barbie" on a German sex doll named Lilli.

Picasso himself used to say, "Good artists borrow; great artists steal."

Innovators also experiment.

They call it "failing fast".

Innovators who fail fast learn faster.

Innovators who learn faster, become master to a market. .

Innovation is not for the twitchy and nervous.

It takes repeated attempts, setbacks and something called 'courageous patience', a rare commodity in our microwave, text message, "I want it now" society.

Management guru Peter Drucker once said, "Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth". That's why small businesses are vital contributors to our economy, typically unencumbered by bureaucratic layers. More often than not, small business become the economic engine that creates jobs and expands opportunities.

Sadly, there are far too many in business who don't exercise their imagination muscles, stretching their mind only to deliver the next wisecrack.

The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.

Failing, learning, failing again and innovation go hand in hand.

What are you willing to fail at this month?

How fast will you do it?

Or will you sit back, play it safe and watch your competitors fail faster?

"Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things"


Mark L. Fox said...


While at the Wizard Academy last month I gave a 1 hour overview of Da Vinci and the 40 Answers. This part is spot on with this post:

You can see the whole 1-hour overview at;


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Nice Picasso quote. My first sculpting prof at Dawson College in Mtl claimed his grandfather was friends with Picasso; he told us a story about this relationship, which has always stuck with me as an artist/entrepreneur.
He said that they, his grandfather and Picasso, would talk for hours in his studio, and when he asked his grandfather what they would discuss all that time, his grandfather said, "The New York Stock Exchange of course."
I mention it because I know you love a good story, and because while he was certainly a savvy businessman, Pic"ass"o was, as he pointed out, more thief than innovator, something which should offend any bona fide innovator.