Often, when I’m speaking on the subject of innovation, I present these two pictures, and ask my audience which is more illustrative of innovation today.
Of course, everyone knows that the correct answer is on the right, but the exercise is valuable for exactly that reason: we know that true innovation is very hard work, yet we dupe ourselves into believing we’re being innovative simply because we’re using new devices and enhanced mobility to engage in old business practices.
So it was with great interest that I read this fantastic blog post from Seth Godin. The post, called “Avoiding Magical Thinking”, touches upon how optimistic thinking – something generally inherent in anyone who has the guts to start something in the first place – can become exaggerated and cause us to miss how the future will be filled with slow progress and hard work.
Many business ideas are based upon a flawed sense that while change happens slowly, the change WE are proposing will happen quickly. I once was involved in a business discussion about a new venture in India. The person I was speaking to was Indian and had a long history of starting businesses there. During the conversation he said “decide how long you think it will take for your business to be successful, and then double it”. When asked why, he said “because it’s India”.
In fact, this adage is probably truer than many of us would like to admit even if we’re attacking a less chaotic, bureaucratic market than India.
There is a term used in software companies when they’re designing a product, and that is “happy path”. In the happy path, a programmer or marketer assumes most consumer interactions with their product will be free of unexpected problems and confusion. The mythical customer meets the software with the right device, operating system, and knowledge which will ensure he has a pleasant and successful experience with the software. People who work in QA (Quality Assurance) or Support know that the happy path is not how the world works.
Seth’s comments are about the seduction of the happy path when we’re envisioning the future. This doesn’t mean we need to be defeatists when we’re conceiving of the change we’d like to bring to the world. It simply means that for magic to happen, we have to make it happen ourselves, and it won’t be easy.
Of course later on, when you’re successful and taking your bows, people will think the ride was all magical, and sometimes you might even succumb to the temptation to make it seem that way.
But deep down you’ll take satisfaction not from the fact that your success was magical, but that it was hard.
Postscript: I have a few quotes on this topic, and many others, in my e-book. If you haven’t already subscribed for updates to this blog, please do so and enjoy the e-book. Thanks!