The 5 Laws of the Innovator: Are you Innovating?


Forbes has published a guest post by John Derham, Founder and Head of Innovation at iQ Media, outlining the ways in which to tell if you are a digital innovator and Colossal Insights has reworked this to apply directly to you and your growth, so read below to ascertain whether you are innovating in your business life.

1: Innovators start with: “What if …”

It is well established that in any walk of life that our sense of personal identity has been ever-present throughout history and these identities assume key roles in society’s economic, cultural and political understanding.

The social archetypes your culture creates drip into our psychological conditioning as individuals and inform the boundaries in which we manifest our understanding of ourselves as agents of society.

However, being swept up in such conditioning actually removes our agency, as we dance like puppets on the strings of worn platitudes such as “that’s life” and “it’s just the way it is”.

To be an innovator one must free the mind to think outside of one’s cultural conditioning.

Further, there has never been more opportunity to do so, the digital revolution has seen times change in a big way and with a new century comes new demands and social norms.

It is the innovator’s role to see his cultural condition, its history and how he can define new paradigms in which to be the truest to his true character that he can be.

Derham states: “In a world of square holes, the innovator is a round peg who sees past the current limitations that define and restrict others.”


2: They Know How to Step Back

Any leader in a given field has the desire to get involved in the practical operation, yet as Sun Tzu’s notorious book The Art of War (a classic which you can buy here) – a book used more with regard to business strategy than combat in the present day – articulates: “…the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought.

“The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.

“Thus do many calculations lead to victory and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”

The innovator remembers his role is to use his position to view a process or operation in its entirety, taking stock of the holistic perspective rather than the minutiae of detail, which can get him stuck in small matters whilst his competitors take advantage.

John Derham adds: “True innovators get out of the way and let others bring their work to market.

“Turning over ultimate authority to others in the [his] organisation was difficult, but it gave me the time to refocus on the next phases of innovation and to again consider ‘What if…’”


3: They Don’t Confuse ‘Innovation’ with ‘Invention’

Inventors hold a special place in the collective public mind-set, with many of the greatest being household names: Edison, Tesla, da Vinci, the Wright Brothers, and so on.

Yet innovators are often less revered, but carry human progress forward just as much as the aforementioned inventor.

Derham states: “Necessity drives invention, but binds the inventor from moving forward. The innovator pushes through known limitations, not by creating immediate solutions, but by redefining problems altogether and then stepping into the unknown to solve them.”

Therefore, any innovator must ask not only ‘do I need to reinvent current models of thought?’ in my line of work, but also ‘how can I rework current processes for maximum effect?’


4: Their Ideas look like Failure at First

Samuel Beckett the famous Irish playwright known for his ostensibly bleak outlook on human endeavour, once stated a phrase that has ironically become a mantra for high achievers when describing his own writing process: “Ever tried? Ever Failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”

The phrase has become an enigmatic statement that rhymes with the famed Silicon Valley aphorism to “fail fast, fail often”, and though seemingly contradictory, it is the paradox of being willing to learn via failure whilst discovering new insight on the way that is the well-trodden route to progress and eventual success.

Derham offers some sage advice for the innovators among you: “Seasoned innovators have learned through experience to be wary of upfront collaboration.

“To the outsider, no one else is working on it [your project] for good reason: innovation can look a lot like failure in the beginning.

“Remember that even personal computing was considered technological folly in the 1970s, and pioneers in the space were mocked for developing such an unnecessary product.

“In fact, Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, is famously quoted as saying, ‘There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.’”

Therefore be okay with failing, see it as a natural and necessary part of your growth, as well as an opportunity to learn new things from your efforts that you would not of learnt otherwise.


5: They Have To Defend Their Ideas

It has been mentioned at the top of the piece that cultural conditioning is as old as time and many people are wary of new ways of living.

By no means does this mean change is impossible though. Yet it does mean that those proposing change are likely to come under heavy questioning, because as well as know well, life is hard and change can be destructive as well as productive, so people want security for their assets and sense of identity.

Derham states: “Innovators know they’re onto something good when they come face to face with three final challenges on the [right] path.

The first challenge is the incumbents in the space; competitors who fear the impact of new ideas.

“The next challenge is the end customer, who will question the need for such drastic change.

“The final challenge is the investor… [who] watches how the innovator addresses competitors’ attempts to keep them down, and how the end customer reacts to the changes.”

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