One of the biggest challenges innovators and entrepreneurs face is often viewed as their biggest advantage.  Knowledge about how an industry works, what products and services have been successful in the past, and which business models and channels are most productive would seem to be beneficial.  Yet when we are talking about innovation, past knowledge is no guarantee of future success.

In fact there are good reasons to believe that deep knowledge about product or industry leads to myopia and complacency and that the best innovators typically take a fresh look at markets and needs and adopt new tools and methods.

Doing the same things

We are all familiar with the definition of insanity, and many times innovators fall into this trap, trying to innovate by following the same tried and true formulas, markets, products and business models.  The reality is that to innovate, you can't rely too heavily on past information, performance, tools or market understanding.

If you are going to innovate, you have to be ready to adopt new thinking, new tools and new perspectives.  Putting aside this knowledge is difficult and risky, but you can't innovate without some learning and some risk.

Learning while doing

To add to this complexity, it's difficult to learn about innovation without actually doing innovation or being innovative.  The reason so many innovators talk about the importance of failure is that failure is part of the discover/experiment/failure/eventual success iterative loop. 

You cannot learn innovation without actually doing innovation work, you probably won't innovate without failure along the way, and you can't do innovation by simply improving your existing tools, methods or perspectives.

While you need new insights and must use new tools, you must also expect to discover new information, experiment, fail and eventually succeed.  There aren't many short cuts to instant success.  Even Edison said he'd discovered 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb.  But he kept going, kept experimenting, kept learning until he was successful.

What are you willing to learn or to change?

Before you set out on your innovation journey, you must ask yourself:  what are you willing to learn?  What are you willing to change?  What valuable knowledge or experience are you willing to overlook or ignore?  What discoveries are you willing to make?  People who try to cling to existing market perspectives, existing business models or their current understanding of customers and needs cannot do much more than incremental innovation. 

If you want to innovate, to make real change, you must adopt new tools and new thinking.  Don't even bother to start if you aren't willing to adopt new tools and perspectives, fail occasionally and discover new information.