I've been reading a good book about creativity entitled Light the Dark, in which writers talk about what inspired their books and articles.  One particularly good article was written by Mark Haddon, who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  In it he (apparently) misquotes Jean Cocteau when he says:  "...fashion is what seem right now and wrong later. Art is what seems wrong now and right later."  This, in its very essence, is what innovators face: the dichotomy between current fashion and future art.  Innovation, especially interesting or disruptive innovation, will always seem "wrong" now and only in hindsight, months or years later, will seem "right."

It Just Seems Right

The difficult truth that most innovators face is that what's currently accepted, and mostly acceptable, isn't innovation but continuation or extensions of existing solutions.  That's true for several reasons:

  1. People are familiar with the solutions, so building on them or extending them doesn't create a lack of familiarity

  2. The risk of an existing solution is lower than the risk of a new, untested solution

  3. Existing solutions or extensions don't require learning or new efforts from the users

These, and many other reasons, are why so much "innovation" is really just extensions or incremental change to existing products or services.  The fear of failure or rejection is simply too high, and really interesting and "new" ideas simply seem wrong right now.

If It Doesn't Seem Wrong

This isn't to say that any idea that seems "wrong" right now is innovative.  You'll hear the mantra frequently that there's no such thing as a bad idea.  That may be true in an idea generation session but it's rarely true generally.  What is almost always true, however, is that ideas that were valuable and disrupted entire industries seemed wrong at first.  Perhaps they were considered wrong because the business model changed, or because the "wrong" company produced the innovation, rather than the usual suspects.  Perhaps the innovation sprung from the "wrong" technology or from an unexpected source.  Whatever the reason, most really interesting or disruptive ideas almost always seemed wrong, unusual or uncomfortable at first.

What We Can Learn From Fashion and Art

The point of this article is to acknowledge that good, interesting innovation is often uncomfortable and unusual.  Good innovators must become accustomed to being told their ideas and solutions are wrong, because most people are comfortable with the status quo.  In turn this means that innovators must be very confident in their ideas, but not arrogant. They must be constantly scanning future trends and market conditions, so that they are already competing in a future that their critics don't understand or haven't comprehended.

Innovators must not get discouraged when people tell them their ideas are wrong.  Rather, like artists they must learn to suffer a bit until their ideas are recognized as the game changers that they really are.  This is why innovators, like artists, are passionate people.  Only people with a future oriented mindset, who can resist current fashion and suffer for their work can create disruptive new ideas and realize them as valuable new products and services.