Is There a Distrust of Innovation?

Photo by John Spade

Photo by John Spade

As I stepped onto the Metro an ad for a big consulting firm caught my eye. Featuring a close-up photo of an anchor and a dramatic font, it read …

 INNOVATION anchored by decades of EXPERIENCE

Interesting, I thought, people inherently don’t trust innovation. It’s some crazy, magical practice that needs to be tethered to something stable, like experience; something rooted to the ground.

Why the distrust? Innovation has been around since the first humans and, some believe, even before that. We've been figuring out new ways of doing things for a long time. It’s a natural tendency—the drive to satisfy a deep unmet need, to be curious about ‘what if?,’ knowing there’s a better, different way.

But now, it’s a formalized offering, a trade people train for, and a service sold to customers. It's an ad on the Metro, a slide in a presentation, a cool graphic on a website. “I innovate for a living,” is a statement that is sure to lure people in at a cocktail party, particularly among the lawyer crowd in DC, but it can also elicit a natural distrust and a ‘prove it to me' reaction.

I wondered, is this distrust found in other fields or confined solely to innovation? Does a capable innovator need to have experience?  Well, to the latter question, I can say that it certainly doesn't hurt and here’s why:

  • Innovation within any organization requires a deep knowledge of the workings of that organization. This may not seem as necessary during the 'ideas' stage of a project but when that idea is being implemented as part of the system, you need some folks on the team with deep knowledge of the ins and outs of the organization. Change management (another natural human tendency now formalized and sold as a service) is as big a part of innovation as any other component.
  • In innovation, experience means you've tried and failed. It means you and your team have had ideas that weren't going to cut it in the marketplace and you were smart enough to leave them behind (or pivot) instead of watching them under perform for years and then letting them go. It means you've been up to bat a few times. We believe there’s a process behind innovation. It’s not magic. And like any approach or method, as you do it repeatedly, you learn the nuances, maybe stumble a bit, but eventually find your particular groove.

Do you think there is a distrust innovation? Do innovators need experience? Tell me your thoughts.

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