Open Future NZ "New ideas and products start vague and fuzzy and only slowly become something you understand"

Innovation Myths - a Quick Overview

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  Understanding the lessons your life is teaching you.  

It seems to me that inventors miss out on recognition and reward because of the pseudo-information in the environment about great inventive heroes. Nobody bothers to explain that most of these people lived miserable lives.  Unless an idea is integrated with the real world it will bring disaster to it's creator. 

This story is quite typical.  Philo T Farnsworth invented electronic television.  Farnsworth was granted 6 patents but he was challenged by RCA, and RCA was able to get political support to delay the wide development of television based on Farnsworth's principles.  After 4 years of court battles, world war two delayed the development of electronic television.  Farnsworth apparently lacked mentors and community support which was the only tool he could have used against the money of RCA.  When Farnsworth died in 1970, he had still never received any money or recognition for his patents.

My thesis is that the most brilliant and hard working person only has direct control over their personal actions.  Innovators often face community opposition and/or disinterest, and difficulties of isolation from the mainstream of ideas.  There may be success, but often the innovator is disappointed with the effort, there being some space between the vision and the achievement.  Innovators often do not understand what they have achieved, and do not understand how people will eventually use the innovation. 

Innovators usually don't understand that they can't succeed alone.  They are told over and over the importance of positive thinking and of persistence in the task, but they are seldom told what they need, in addition to an idea that works, to be successful.  The myth of the "the lone hero" is perpetuated.  It's a lie.  Accidents of history are hugely important in the success stakes.  All any individual can do is develop skills, become informed about the best ideas, seek support from others, seek resources and try to do practical things.  Sometimes things will go well, other people will be interested in the results and new options will open.  Sometimes the result of all the work done does not spark attention, nobody is interested and the available options are reduced.

New ideas and products start vague and fuzzy and only slowly become something you understand.  Even then you may not be able to explain it to anyone.  Finding the words, creating drawings, building a prototype are all successive stages in a continuing revelation.  Innovation is sustained by optimism, and the conviction that this effort is leading somewhere.  Hope, an optimistic view of the future and hard work are essential to innovative success.  Positive belief in the infallibility of the original idea is a disaster waiting to happen.

Positive thinking is the antithesis of good invention.  A dogmatic view allows you to be powerful in narrow way, but then the narrowness becomes a coffin.  There are lots of examples of inventors who suffered that fate.

What form of notebook do you as an innovator maintain your records in? An American, Howard Gruber, studied creative people from history through their journals.  A journal is a place to develop your own ideas .  Nobody can be successful with the only ideas of other people.  You have to add something of your own, especially the integration of ideas with a practical objective.  Why don't we encourage innovators to keep journals?  Most of us learn five years too late that we should have been collecting systematic notes long ago.

Gruber found that new ideas took a long time to develop.  The seeds of a successful idea may appear in a journal 20 years before the idea is finally exposed to the public.  Those who think of a new idea often dismiss it, but some images keep coming back.  Fear of public ridicule or official disapproval frequently caused people to hide their good ideas. 


Philo Taylor Farnsworth