On the Foolishness of Bold Innovation

Today during one of our regular Townhall webinars where we share what products and features and ideas we’re working on, one of our customer community made this comment after we presented a project we’re going to tackle …

“Your plans are very grand and I would say border on the delusional, but you guys pull it off every time and better than advertised. I can’t wait.”

To which I replied:

It’s good to be delusional or else we’ll think like grownups and never do anything innovative.

There is a big difference between biting something off you literally can’t chew and doing something truly innovative that inspires you to expand and stretch yourself and your team beyond what you thought was possible.

(The comments above were about something we feel good about doing — all the while knowing it will truly stretch all of us — and thus a challenge we are boldly stepping up to accept.)

You should set realistic (or rather practical) goals … but I always like to push 10-20% beyond what I or someone else thinks they can actually do. I believe the space between the “realistic” and the stretching is where you grow as a human being and a team.

Here are some thoughts on being “delusional” or how I interpret the above comment about being “delusional” more as “the foolishness of bold innovation” …

  • It’s always good to have a few people who think you are actually delusional. You won’t like it, but you do need detractors and the naysayers from the peanut gallery. They can help keep you realistic. And tether you from getting too big of a head or unrealistic or unpractical in your approaches. Plus, if you only got positive comments, you’d think life is perfect and start daydreaming and drive off the cliff.
  • Get a small win, then start building momentum with incrementally bigger wins. You need previous (and smaller) wins and successes to build up to where someone calls you delusional but also has confidence you’ll get it done. You also need the self confidence in having wins under your belt. Being delusional in the sense we’re talking about here doesn’t mean you walk up to the biggest guy in the bar and challenge him to a fight without ever having fought before. That’s stupid, blind arrogance.
  • Eating whole elephants in one bite is not just delusional, it’s actually just stupid. In our naivety or arrogance, we’ve all attempted to tackle projects that were actual elephants. Monstrous skyscraper-like projects that simply swallowed us in the size of its scope. The saying is “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Everything you do needs to stay “in scope.” You need to understand how to release a version 1 and make it incrementally better with each release.
  • It’s only a failure if you fail to learn and grow from the experience. We all have failed and have failures at some point. But they truly aren’t failures unless we do not find through the experiences nuggets of truth that shape us for the next project. To not learn and grow from each failure (so as to not repeat it) is actually delusional to me.
  • Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. Thinking through delusional innovation reminded me of this advice Steve Jobs gave at Stanford’s commencement address (based on a book he read). It’s why I responded with “It’s good to be delusional or else we’ll think like grownups and never do anything innovative.” There are tons of studies and books on innovation and curiosity and how as children we take bold chances without any of the “Resistance” that Steven Pressfield talks about in “Do the Work.” As we grow up we start realizing all the folly of certain decisions or thoughts. And it causes us to be less innovative over time and to not take chances. To stay hungry and stay foolish is to recapture that innocence of childhood, the stupidity, the delusion of thinking … what could be.

Here’s to the increase of foolish, bold, delusional innovation.



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2 thoughts on “On the Foolishness of Bold Innovation”

  1. Delusion or not, banks nowadays want innovation and potential for major profit before they’ll give you the financing you need to hit it big time. So there’s nothing wrong with pushing the envelope when it comes to looking forward. Big companies do it all the time – just look and any majot corporation’s most recent prospectus!

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