Why Does Innovation Scare Us?

Innovation is a word that feels big.  It scares us because it signifies dramatic change, and that can be overwhelming to many of us. We also shy away from innovation because it seems reserved for geniuses with special knowledge about complicated stuff. That’s because we often hear about innovation linked to strides in science or technology – and not everyone has access to or feels at home in those two worlds.

Let’s put an end to these two irrational fears right now, and get you over the innovation paralysis that could be holding you back from developing ideas into great products.

Change means entering the realm of the unknown and if you can’t predict the future, you’re going to feel very uneasy.  But the best innovations are not based on what’s not known, they are based on an understanding of the past, and the here and now (“culture”) and making judgments and informed decisions based on that knowledge.

Innovation also puts the fear of failure into many people’s minds. So what? Innovation failures are learning experiences. Each one teaches you what doesn’t work and what might work the next time around. Thomas Edison went through many failed light bulbs before he found one that worked.  Chefs try dozens of ingredient combinations before they come up with a winning recipe for a delicious cookie.

Fear of loss and leaving our comfort zone is another reason people hesitate to go out on a limb with an idea.  Change is too often associated with loss – loss of colleagues, familiar routines, and comfortable surroundings.  You have to turn the tables on “losses” and start seeing them as “gains” – when I innovate I always make new friends and meet new colleagues, am introduced to exciting practices and skills, and often learn about and visit interesting environments.

Innovation also implies risk – I can’t argue with this.  You are taking a risk when you develop something new and then ask people to try it. Today technology (computer modeling, communication, etc.) allows us to minimize financial investments and losses and do experimentation very affordably.

If you’re still not convinced, consider other risks you’ve taken, for a new job or a better salary, or to meet someone new.  Didn’t the benefits of the risks that paid off outweigh (and out number) the risks that didn’t pay off? And for those failed risks, didn’t you learn something you applied successfully to your next venture?

Finally, don’t get stuck on the notion that innovation is limited to science, technology or medicine. These are innovations that make headlines – but you don’t have to change the world in a laboratory or from Silicon Valley. Start thinking of innovation as nothing more than problem-solving.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Eric von Hippel discovered millions of regular people modify existing products in order to solve a problem or improve an item’s functionality – providing numerous examples of basic ways in which people transform things into new items that serve specific needs.  Many of these modifications or complete re-dos could very well become the next big hit on store shelves.  That’s the next step – taking an idea to the people.

Once you embrace innovation, make innovative thinking and problem solving part of your every day routine. Remember, inventiveness begets inventiveness.