Innovating takes courage and faith

Earlier this week I made the following statement on Twitter (if you're interested in following, I'm @metacool):

Innovating takes courage and faith. You've got to jump from the plane believing your chute is going to pop.

Having thought about it more this week, that statement isn't right.  Parachuting out of a plane is not a good metaphor for the act of innovation.  Instead, it's all about being able to jump out of planes in a way that's more akin to this:

Don't try this at home, kids.  Or this, for that matter.

The reason the parachuting metaphor doesn't work for me is because it makes innovating out to be a solo activity based around a linear, I-have-safety-net process.  But, in my experience, jumping out of the plane without the parachute seems closer to what actually happens in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life: when you start the process of bringing something new in to the world using design thinking, you don't know where you'll end up or what is going to be like getting there, but you do know that you can always rely on an iterative, intersection-focused design process achieve your end goal.  This concept is illustrated well by three key elements of this video.

First, in this jump, Travis makes the leap knowing that he has a premeditated process for landing safely.  There's quite a bit of on the spot improvisation happening in those long seconds after he jumps, but clearly he has a rough sense of what needs to happen and when.  In a similar way, innovating with a design process to guide you feels much the same way — beforehand you don't know exactly when you'll put each component part in to play, but you certainly are intimately familiar with all the tricks and tools at your disposal.  And practice makes perfect.

Second, it's all about the team.  Innovation may start with an "I", but the reality of making it so given a problem of even mild complexity calls for a team effort.  It's a team that gets Travis to the ground safely, and in the same way, a tight, interdependent design team can do things that would be impossible if undertaken alone.  In the course of the design process, we become each other's parachutes, as it were.

So, allow me this opportunity to rephrase my original statement:

Innovating requires courage and optimism.  When making a leap in to the unknown, you must have faith that your team and process will take you to where you want to go.

Having the courage to leap in the first place is the third and final lesson to takeaway from Travis's parachute-less jump.  Without the courage to engage with the abyss with the audacity to believe that you can create something beautiful and valuable for the rest of the world to use, nothing valuable can ever happen. 

So, with optimism as your co-pilot, figure out who can help you pull off those jumps you want and need to make in 2010, and go for it!

1 thought on “Innovating takes courage and faith

  1. Agree completely. Would be interested in getting your thoughts on what it takes to get those in leadership more comfortable with this idea? Those that might be conservative or generally risk averse? For those of us that live in this world, we can easily understand the analogy. For those that don’t, the thought of this is terrifying! Thanks.

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