Seeing is believing

John W Lewis's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, May 12, 2016

If we have not seen something, then it is difficult to believe it. If we find it counter-intuitive (which, of course, depends on our intuition!), we might, even, convince ourselves that it is impossible. Then we'd be completely stuck!

In a comment on the #innochat facebook group, Matt Hunt (@huntm) referred to factors that inhibit innovation as "headwinds", to which I responded with a reply about knowing how to tack. Let's explore this analogy.

Actually, Matt called them "insurmountable headwinds", but let's relax about the "insurmountable" part and consider that to be a time-dependent opinion (rather like something being "impossible" until, of course, someone does it)!

Imagine the situation, some centuries ago (I haven't checked the history for the dates), before people knew how to build and operate boats that could sail upwind. The concept probably seemed unimaginable to most people. If you were a sailor at that time, you knew that ships could sail with the wind (downwind) and could sail at an angle across the wind. But sailing against the wind (upwind) probably seemed ridiculous.

At that time, ships would become "embayed", that is, trapped in a bay by an onshore wind. They were unable to sail out of the bay and, in a storm, unless their anchors held, could be driven onto the shore and wrecked.

Nowadays, high performance sailing yachts can sail upwind at less than 45 degrees to the wind, which would seem probably have seemed incredible to sailors of that time.

There are many things that, if you have not seen them, it is difficult to believe. Before it could be done, most people would have considered sailing upwind to be counter-intuitive.

If we travel only by sail and cannot sail upwind, then we go in the general direction of the wind. And if we want to travel somewhere, we must wait until the wind blows in a generally favourable direction.

But when we can sail upwind, then we can sail anywhere.


Let's discuss the need to see something to believe it during #innochat on Twitter on Thursday May 13, 2016 starting at 12 noon Eastern local time.

This is relevant to innovation in two respects. One is the adoption of specific innovations. The other is the adoption of approaches which facilitate organizational innovation more generally.

Of course, there are some other examples which are the inverse: you have to believe them to see them, but that is a topic for another time!


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