Innovation blog: That was my idea!

Innovation Birmingham's head of business development, Cliff Dennet

That was my idea!

Overnight successes are often far from overnight. Thriving music artists, new products and businesses are the result of many years of hard and complex work (and a good dose of luck).

To the casual observer success seems profound, often displaying a level of simplicity and elegance that hides years of confusion, financial hardship and personal sacrifice that contributed to the success. People sometimes look at new things and remark that "they had that idea years ago".

Innovation – the application of new ideas – is tough. It’s not tough because ideas are hard to come by, it’s tough rather because ideas are complex to implement. As soon as you begin diving into innovation, you’ll hit complexity. By exploring a simple problem, you suddenly chisel open a whole chasm of unknowns. The innovator can feel lost, with nothing to grasp onto. A pitch black chasm feels impossible to navigate and with few reference points, there are also few sources of comfort.

For many people, this is an uncomfortable situation. Usually the only light you can see is a flicker coming from where you started and this safe haven often tempts people out of the chasm and back into the known. Sometimes, this reversion takes milliseconds; the light of a new idea illuminates a myriad of problems and is immediately snuffed out by the security of the familiar.

Those who convert ideas into products and services – innovators – have worked out ways of dealing with discomfort. They can supress the fear of the unknown; converting this fear into a momentum that carries them in any direction apart from back to the start. Like ping pong balls inside a lottery machine, they enthusiastically bounce around the chamber of complexity – purposely colliding – using the complex to eventually bounce them out of the chamber and into something much more profound. In short, innovators understand that feeling lost and confused is all part of the process and that with enough stimuli, they will emerge through confusion and will create something elegant.

In business, there is usually no single right answer to a complex problem. Indeed, it is this aspect that makes such problems complex in the first place. Being able to recognise and accept that innovation will almost always cause the innovator to dive into unknown landscapes, is a key part of creating the momentum to keep going. It’s okay to feel lost; as long as being lost was part of your own plan.

There is a certain security in diving into confusion. Giacomo Casanova famously remarked “one who makes no mistakes makes nothing”. If you are making mistakes, making movement, making noise; then there’s at least a chance you will end up making something great. Just be content with dashing around in the dark for a while.