The Serious Fun of Innovation

John W Lewis's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, May 21, 2015

The prospect of working on innovative projects can be exciting. Yet, the reality can be very different.

Our special idea might be the opportunity of a lifetime. However, the chance of its leading to the revolution that we imagine is often much lower than we believe. And when our precious project is competing for resources with everyone else's precious projects, there are likely to be very few winners and widespread disappointment.

The reality is that substantial breakthroughs are made, and they are accompanied by tremendous satisfaction. But they are infrequent and difficult to predict, and the satisfaction is likely to be less of the superficial and short-term fun variety, and much more likely to be of a deeper and longer term variety. Also, rather than resulting from an individual contribution, it is more likely that a team effort led to the outcome.

Perhaps our feelings originate from our experience of innovative products and our excitement at the prospect of using them for the first time. Perhaps they are enhanced by stories we hear from people who have developed those innovative products, which include the excitement of discovering new solutions and uncovering new opportunities. However it is far too easy for those stories of discovery to be told as a selective set of post-rationalised connections which led to the outcome, conveniently ignoring all the other fruitless activity along the way. As Steve Jobs said, "you can only connect the dots looking backwards".

So the attraction of working on innovative projects is that it can be a lot of fun. We anticipate the buzz of doing new and interesting things. But it is all too easy to ignore the lack of certainty, the frustration, and the anxiety that will inevitably go with that.

How can we communicate this reality? There is tremendous satisfaction to be obtained from achieving substantial breakthroughs which enable your organization to deliver enhanced value to its customers. But these breakthroughs are few and far between. A high proportion of initiatives do not lead to any significant outcome, although one or two lessons learned during the process might eventually help us to avoid pitfalls in future. Even the initiatives which do lead somewhere have almost always experienced numerous false dawns and dead-ends during their journey to fruition. Picking winners in most fields is very difficult, and it is all too easy to convince ourselves that our “idea” must be the one and only route forward.

Let's discuss these issues during #innochat at 12 noon Eastern time on May 21st, 2015.


  1. What attracts people to participate in innovative developments?
  2. How does an expectation of fun contribute to this attraction?
  3. How does the perceived fun of innovation relate to the deeper satisfaction of successful achievements?
  4. How can we avoid disappointment by being realistic about the probability of significant breakthroughs?
  5. What would attract more people to participate in innovative developments?


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