Saturday, April 27, 2019

Innovators know when to stop

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

My Story:
In my final year of engineering, I appeared in SSB (Services Selection Board) exam for entry into Indian Air Force short service commission. Having cleared the written exam, I had to appear in the next phase of exam in India's holy city of Varanasi.

The next phase of evaluation spanned over couple of days. One of them was an exam that tested
one's physical abilities with a series of courses like jumping from a heighted platform, grabbing the rope and coming down, monkey crossing the rope etc.
One such exercise was climbing a 12ft wall in one go. I was probably among the first ones to have a go at it. I took a long run up and tried to grip one of the grippable portion of the wall and then use the momentum to push myself up. I could reach considerable height but failed to climb up. I somehow picked myself, completed the last routine and went back to staging area.

While at the staging area, I could still see the wall and people attempting the climb. After noticing for a few minutes, I could see the pattern. Most people took a long run up, jumped high, fell short and moved away. Since more than one tries were allowed, they again (one person did 3-4 times) did the same steps but got same result every time.

Persistence vs Blind Persistence:
Persistence, as we all know, is our ability to continue chasing the goal despite the odds and not giving up. I recall to have argued in my head that what I was seeing (people trying to cross the wall again and again using the same method) wasn't really persistence but I didn't have the right word in my vocabulary to describe it.

Years later, when I was doing my professional certification in graphology (handwriting analysis), I came across a personality trait called as 'Blind persistence'. Blind persistence, exactly was what I had observed during the SSB exam that day i.e. trying the same method again and again and expecting a different result, yet failing. (There's was way to know whether one possesses this trait via one's handwriting).

Is Perfection always a favorable trait ?
In summary, the people who possess blind persistence find it hard to decide how soon/when to stop.I have this peculiar observation in my work with innovators. One of the patterns that I see with the first time patent submitters is that they work a lot to perfect their idea before filing the invention
disclosure form. Perfection itself is not a bad trait to possess except when it comes at a cost of progress. The extent of perfection is so dire in some of the first time patent submitters that they take too much time (sometimes spanning multiple quarters) to take feedback or even write an idea draft. This whole cycle of over-mulling of ideas in their head without taking feedback is quite akin to those Air Force aspirants trying to climb the wall without changing their operating methods.

Was it Einstein who defined insanity as thinking same thing over and over again and expecting a different result ? So, In addition to raising your hands which typically indicates the start of innovation process, we ought to also build a sound judgement of when to seek opinions (i.e. sharing ideas in closed circles) and decide when to change course.

Take action on your ideas as soon as possible to know their real worth:

One of the things i tell first time patent submitters is to submit your first invention disclosure as early as possible. Don't sit on the ideas for a long time. Waiting overly on a single idea hurts the innovators in more ways than one could imagine-
1. It makes the existing idea stale. After a while, without actions/feedback gathering on ideas people just go in circles.
2. It blocks the inflow of other ideas. Keeping the focus narrow on just one idea again stalls the innovation process.

When it comes to ideas, it is ideal to have your own idea funnel large (check the Aaron Levie example) with a lot of ideas and have a system to let go of the ideas that don't get validated after the due diligence.

Innovators do know when to stop!

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