Digging In

I really don’t feel like writing a blog post today. It’s early in the morning. I didn’t get much sleep. I don’t have a cat on my lap. I have too many cats on my lap. I haven’t eaten yet. It’s raining. It’s too nice out to be inside. I don’t have anything to say. I’ve got so many ideas in my head I can’t figure out which one to write about. No one reads these things anyway. Everything just feels wrong!

And you probably wouldn’t be too disappointed if I didn’t write a post today. I know that a few people seem to like the blog, but missing a day wouldn’t be the end of the world. There are plenty of other things to read, plenty of other ways to spend your time.

So I think I’ll skip it today.

And yet…

And yet, one of the things I promised myself was that I’d post every day, unless something really unusual happens. It’s no big thing, just a promise to myself. I ended up writing the most popular post I’ve ever done on Christmas Day. If I can write a good post on Christmas Day, what’s my excuse for skipping January 7th? I can’t really think of one. And sometimes, if a thing is worth doing, you just have to dig in. Grind it out. Work at it until something good happens.

That’s why I hate all these books about innovation that have a light bulb on the cover. Innovation isn’t about inspiration. Innovation is about working hard. Sure, making novel connections is what it’s all about – but you can’t do that if you haven’t done the hard work to know what the connections mean. Here’s Gordon Gould, one of the people that invented the laser, talking about the moment of inspiration:

In the middle of one Saturday night… the whole thing suddenly popped into my head and I saw how to build the laser… But that flash of insight required the 20 years of work I had done in physics and optics to put all of the bricks of that invention in there.

So instead of light bulbs, I think that innovation books should all have a picture like this on the cover:

The symbol for innovation should be a person with a shovel in the middle of a big hole. That’s a better representation of what it takes to innovate. That’s why I went ahead and wrote a blog post today, despite all the good reasons not to. That’s why I’m heading in now to write a paper, review a couple others, and read. Have to do the digging so that I know what it actually means when I make some new connections. What are you going to work on today?

(the Gould quote is from Scott Berkun’s terrific book The Myths of Innovation)

(photo from flickr/Wessex Archaeology under a Creative Commons license)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

15 thoughts on “Digging In

  1. for me, the essence of innovation is creative destruction: introducing something new, and in doing so destroying that which preceded it. that’s the symbol i would choose for innovation – i have just never figured out how to implement it…

  2. That’s a good one too Graham – I’m a big Schumpeterian myself. But I’m also unsure what the best way to represent it would be… I still like a shovel more than a light bulb!

  3. Tim,
    I think people will still be disappointed if they click on your page and find no new posts today.
    So, yes, it is a good incentive for you to continue writing (if you hold the ethical standard that you ought not disappoint your readers).
    But this is still not the reason to write (nor the reason for us to read, I suppose). Perhaps the reason to write is as you say, making a new connection. But I think it is more like forcing a “defragmentation” of your ideas so that whatever connection you make is coherent or at least comprehensible.
    That is why, for instance, I prefer self-contained posts than “stream of consciousness” tweets or facebook wall posts — I don’t think you would feel as bad (or us be any worse off) if you did not tweet at least once every day. But I don’t know.
    I think that one important part of the innovation process (and the writing process) is creating integral (idea) units that are demonstrably useful (possibly unique) and potentially applicable. Perhaps we should call them “innovation memes” (guess which book I am reading these days) some of these memes are better than others. Some will benefit from diffusion and will improve over time, etc.
    The important thing is to keep passing them on and let them compete for our attention-span.

  4. Marco – I fully agree with your points in the last two paragraphs – I think that is the real reason I do this… and it works pretty well as an idea sorting tool.

    Sam, not sure about the orange – there’s a replacement aspect to creative destruction that it’s important to capture…

  5. Hi Tim
    Not sure the hole metaphor works. Isn’t innovation about ‘if you want to get out of the hole, stop digging’?
    just a thought. :)

  6. That’s probably true John. The main point is that I want something that indicates ‘working’, but that might not be the best way to do it…

  7. Well Tim, you pulled it out; I liked where you ended up and didn’t mind the journey to get there. That said…some of my biggest insights seem to come at some God-forsaken early hour of the morning, after I’ve totally released from a typically obsessive, brute force assault on a specific problem. Somehow all the pieces I’ve crammed into my head naturally settle into place at the point I stop trying to force them into the framework of an earlier “breakthrough.” So don’t deny yourself a bit of “white space” between the lines once in a while.

  8. That’s a great point Ken – and I definitely agree. One of the things I’ve been doing more of recently is making sure that I have time where my mind is relatively unoccupied for that precise reason…

  9. hmm….post-juice production: the orange pulp gets returned to the garden where it fertilizes and keeps creating…hmm maybe I just like oranges too much… 😛

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