This post is inspired by the third chapter of Scott Berkun’s book The Myths of Innovation. Why not get yourself a copy and join in the discussion?
This chapter dealt with the myth that there is a tried and true method for innovation.
The answer, in short, is there is no method to innovation – no way of reliably reproducing success or reducing the risks of failure.
In fact, failure (or the risk thereof) is an integral part of the process. Discoveries come about through experiments. An experiment, as Berkun points out,
has at least one unknown variable, and the experiment is to see how that variable, well, varies.
This naturally leads to unexpected results which, by their very definition, can be anything from the greatest thing since twist ties to an almighty flop.
The important thing to remember here is that failure is not the end to a brilliant career. In fact, Berkun reminds us:
There is no way to avoid all risks when doing new things…all the greatest innovators in history experienced more failures than successes.
Well, yes actually.
Realising that those who went before us also battled through failures, can make their successes feel more achievable. Remember, last week we discussed how history should be used to connect our struggles with those of people in the past. While history only seems to focus on the spectacular highs and colossal lows, it’s the ordinary failures and discoveries that led to most of the innovations we have today.
So, does that mean there’s no way to reproduce the ‘perfect environment’ for innovation?
Finding Paths to Innovation
Berkun points out that there are infinite paths to innovation, and while “there are no maps” to these paths, “there are attitudes that help.”
As I read through the five attitudes he mentions, I found them relating very easily to the writing life. What do you think?
Whenever we create, we are giving out a part of ourselves; be it our energy, our thoughts or our emotions. Our Creativity is an integral part of this process.
Being aware of the environments or challenges that inspire the best results for your personality helps you make smart path choices.
Some literary examples of this that spring to mind are:
- If you are able to map your most creative times of day, you can schedule your tasks to take best advantage of those times.
- If you understand what boosts your Creativity, you can keep yourself moving forward in your writing projects.
- If you acknowledge what parts of the writing life give you stress, you can find ways to manage that stress (or perhaps remove it).
Reward Interesting Failures
This one is my favourite. Berkun sums it up nicely:
Any mistake that teaches you, or someone who works with you, something previously unknowable without having done the experiment is a valuable lesson. And it’s this attitude that is consistent among all great inventors.
I love the term used here: previously unknowable.
We can read all the writing blogs and books we like but our personal writing challenges, and the best ways for us to overcome them, are unknowable until we physically sit down and start writing.
Once we start writing there will be failures. There will be ideas that morph as we put them to paper, stories with unexpected themes running through them, characters who take us in completely different directions. The true potential of these were unknowable until we got them onto the page and started massaging them into shape.
Even if the idea, story or character never actually makes it into the final draft, we have learned from the experience. And that is something to be rewarded.
If you viewed ‘failures’ as something to be rewarded, would you be less afraid of starting something new?
Be Intense, But Step Back
Most of us do our best work when we are intensely writing. But distance is equally important.
While we are intense, we are driven by passion for our work (or perhaps sheer determination to finish). We see the intricacies of what we are creating and feel the emotions we’re describing.
But at some point we have to step back so we gain the perspective that only distance can give. Seeing the whole picture, with a measure of detachment, shows up flaws or areas for improvement which we could never have found during our intense phase.
This is why it’s important to take a break from your writing, even putting a finished draft in the drawer for a period of time, to force the distance.
When you return to view your work, keep yourself open to the potential of change. Be willing to reconsider where your project could go. Be prepared to “hear the hard truths” and perhaps rethink your strategies. It takes courage, but the benefits are worth it.
Grow to Size
Most of us would love to produce a best selling book, or at least one which captured the imagining of a worldwide audience. But to manage that we need to start small. With words and sentences, questions and conundrums, plot and characters.
Berkun, referring to the fantasy of changing the world or revolutionising an industry, says:
Many world-changing ideas had humble beginnings and started with small questions like, “Can I make this better?” Use ego and ambition to fuel a progression of innovations and not distract you from the best opportunities, however ordinary, nearby.
The saying goes that there are only a finite number of plots in literature. If that’s the case, pick a plot and ask the question, “Can I make this better?” Start from a humble beginning, building your words and experience as you go.
Honour Circumstances and the Past
Whenever someone succeeds, there are often more elements in play than the person themselves. As Berkun says:
You can do everything right and fail, and do many things wrong and succeed.
Acknowledging the randomness of circumstances and the sacrifices of those who went before will keep us humble – and humility is one of the most important secrets to dealing with success and failure alike.
There is no way to guarantee creative success, but these five attitudes can put you in the best mindset for making it happen.
Chapter 3 is so packed full of interesting information that I ended up with two separate posts about it. This is the first. Next week I’ll post the second, dealing with how to succeed in a book-saturated market. Stay tuned!
What points did you especially like from chapter 3? Please share your thoughts in the comments.