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INNOVATE

Are You an Innovator or a Fool?

Can being an innovator often paint you a fool? Here Inc. columnists share how to fail safely and protect your reputation.
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Nearly everyone has done a foolish thing or two in his or her life. Yet often there is a very thin line between foolishness and innovation. George Bernard Shaw explained it best:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Unfortunately, that unreasonableness is often perceived by society as foolishness until success is achieved.

It takes a strong sense of self worth to fail continuously and publicly in the name of progress.  Rather than taking hits to your reputation, revel in your craziness. My choice is to play the fool and announce it up front.  Have fun with the experimentation and proudly wear the failure. People may not consider you brilliant, but they will enjoy being around you, and will be delighted when one of your ideas hits pay-dirt.

Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.

1. Go undercover.

As a business, one of the best ways to test an innovation is to create a separate group or entity. In the early days of the Internet, many large companies were afraid to venture onto the Internet for fear of what a failure might do to their reputation. My company was an innovation lab that took ideas from larger companies and set the idea up under a different name to see if it would work.  If it didn't, the site or new idea was quietly de-funded.  If it did, the company that commissioned the work would "acquire" the successful endeavor. This arm's length relationship protected the reputation of the large company while giving them a way to take advantage of this new channel. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward

Want to read more from Eric? Click here.

2. Be agile.

At the American Society of Journalists and Authors, we're constantly experimenting, especially with our annual conference. Not all experiments succeed. One year we required signups for both days of the event instead of just one. That didn't work out. Another year we did a panel on dealing with rejection. I still think that's a fantastic topic, but most of our audience rejected it and stayed away. The point is to try, gather information quickly about whether something's working, and be ready to make a rapid change if not. Scary, yes. But even a 66-year-old association resists change at its peril. I bet the same is true of your organization. Minda Zetlin  - Start Me Up

Want to read more from Minda? Click here.


3.
Cut your losses.

People will easily forgive a mistake, but it's more difficult to forgive a fool. Know when to cut your losses and move on to the next idea or a revised version of the current one. I've been approached often by entrepreneurs looking for a life raft after years of marketing a product or service that no one wants. Don't confuse giving up with veering away from something that is not working. Begin with a plan and lots of research and benchmarks to back it up. Then you'll recognize the signs and know whether to come to a complete stop, shift gears, or go full steam ahead. Marla Tabaka - The Successful Soloist

Want to read more from Marla? Click here.


4. Judge ideas on merit.

Writer John Brunner is quoted as saying, "There are two kinds of fools. One says, 'This is old, and therefore good.' And one says, 'This is new, and therefore better.'" The point for entrepreneurs is that just because you can pursue something new and shiny and out of the box, that doesn't mean that you should. In the early 2000s, LEGO almost innovated itself out of business. Responding to threats in the toy marketplace, the company went on an innovation binge--introducing all sorts of new non-core products to its already large portfolio. Unfortunately, customers didn't bite, and in 2003 the company lost $300 million and was almost out of cash. Fortunately, LEGO realized the error of its ways and instituted a rigorous decision-making process that refocused the company on its core products. Today, the company is the picture of financial health, with strong top-line growth and a 24 percent net profit margin. Peter Economy--The Management Guy

Want to read more from Peter? Click here.

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Last updated: Apr 1, 2014

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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