Innovation vs. Invention

So, recently, I’ve been reading a book called The Innovator’s Way by Peter Denning and Robert Dunham. It’s a business book and offers fascinating theories about why some good ideas gain traction and others don’t. It examines the translation of creativity into effective change—not exactly like Malcolm Gladwell, but what Denning and Dunham do is not too dissimilar. Basically, what the authors posit is that lots of good ideas (aka “invention”) die on the vine, not because they aren’t promising, but because they were never carried through on or simply failed to capture the imagination of the target audience (“innovation”). Ethernet inventor Robert Metcalfe is quoted as encapsulating this concept thusly, “Invention is the flower, innovation is the weed.” What this means is that in order for a good idea to “root” in a population’s psyche, much grunge work must be done to convince them that this new method or product will bring value to their lives. Ok, so as with all things on this blog, I am taking this idea and using it as an analogy for re-booting.

Let’s define the process of conceiving of a new approach or attitude (such as a change in how we live our lives or define ourselves or react to chronic irritations) as the “flower.” Implementing this change is the “weed.” Everyone with me so far?

Good ideas can flash, unbidden, into our minds when we think the words, “What if?” Our attention is riveted by these “seed thoughts”—whole new worlds take form in our heads. There’s a problem we need to solve or a possibility we wish to explore, so we think these magic words and eventually, some answer occurs to us; we suspect that revolutionary potential lies buried within. Pleased, we secretly nurse on this idea. Covetously, we stare at this prospect, fantasizing about how our lives might be different if only we were to follow up. Then comes the challenge of execution…

Revamping our lives or altering the way we interact with one another requires enormous dedication and determination. (For purposes of this post, I’m not bothering to address the resistance to change from those around us.) The sheer dint of work required to re-boot is so great that before starting we need to ask ourselves, “How much work am I willing to do? How much fallout can I withstand?” It’s this portion of the equation—taking the good idea and implementing it–which is the weed. The only way your new approach will take root is if you’re willing to undergo the blood, sweat, and tears that it needs to blossom and thrive.

Over and over, I have seen people stay in bad situations because it was “too much work” to get out of that unsatisfying job or unhappy relationship or launch that new venture they’ve spent years dreaming about. They’d prefer the status quo, or if not “prefer” per se, they’re daunted by the idea of what they’d have to do in order to make such a significant shift. But, it needn’t be this dramatic. Similar challenges exist when we are trying to re-boot a rocky relationship with one of our relatives. Acting differently or extending ourselves in a way we haven’t can feel awkward and moderately unsatisfying, even when it is for the better. I know whereof I speak.

What change are you desperate to make? Are you brave enough to endure the inevitable awkwardness and potential discomfort that is likely to follow?

Because this is my blog, I always use myself as guinea pig. Presenting myself to the world as a professional writer terrifies me, even though its what I’ve always wanted to do. Whether it’s this blog or my first book, just putting myself out there and owning what it is I want leaves me feeling exposed to criticism and ridicule, maybe even some eye rolling. (One person actually suggested that I stop writing altogether.) Extracting myself from an incredibly toxic and co-dependent relationship required enormous courage and a willingness to withstand significant blowback, but I was so desperate that anything was better than staying stuck. Redefining who I am and how I see myself has been another part of this process. Sometimes, the hardest work we have to do is internal. Making sure that our “seed thoughts” take root within our own hearts and minds can be the toughest row to hoe, but if we can manage this, after awhile everything else will fall into line.

What kills me is when I see people who choose to remain unhappily entrenched in place. For whatever reason, they aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and tackle the innovation portion of this invention vs. innovation equation. They stand by as their longings wither and die from lack of care and feeding. My point is to encourage you to keep at it—give that good idea of yours a little air and sunshine. Talk it up to yourself if you’re unwilling to float it among friends. You may be surprised by how easily and well received the possibility is received and when this happens, it gives you an extra shot of much needed courage.

A good idea can’t go anywhere if you won’t let it blossom.

Flower blossom


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