Dissatisfaction Drives Innovation

What makes us innovative? In many cases, it is an almost overwhelming level of dissatisfaction with current state of the world.

I thought of that today when I was looking at some of the feedback from the people that were in my executive education course a couple of weeks ago. One of the comments was written in response to a couple of self-deprecating comments that I made, and it started by saying “Tim doesn’t give himself enough credit…”, then it went on to say some nice things.

The thing is, I do give myself a fair bit of credit. At the same time, I am very critical of the work that I do, and I always see ways that I can make it better. I’m never fully satisfied with the status quo – at least the part of it that I have some control over. So when I have ideas for making things better, I try to execute them.

Paul Sloane makes a similar point:

“Innovation comes from angry and driven people,” says Tom Peters. The innovator is not happy with his lot. He is impatient for change. And this can be a problem for successful companies. The natural satisfaction that people derive from success can lead to complacency, which is the enemy of innovation. This is why the innovative leader always engenders a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo. It is all very well telling shareholders that the company is making steady and satisfactory progress but the internal message needs more of an edge. “We are doing well but there is much more to be done. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels.”

And so do John Hagel and John Seeley Brown:

Edges that are destined to transform the core — rather than fade into obscurity — often consist of a cadre of people with an intense aspiration to scale their innovations in order to make a difference in the world. They are truly out to “change the world” and will settle for nothing less. (Certainly much of the wellness movement is populated by such people.) Without this cadre peripheries tend to remain fringes — simply because the difficulties of transforming the core are too stiff for those attracted to the fringe who lack the fortitude to persist in the fact of significant obstacles.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo drives innovation in two ways. First, dissatisfaction helps us find new ways to do things. It can be a spur for creativity, giving you a nudge to figure out novel ways to achieve the goals that you are aiming for.

Second, dissatisfaction with the status quo give you the will to persevere. In order to get our great new ideas executed, we have to overcome resistance and obstacles. Restlessness is one of the things that drives us to do this.

So the next time you feel dissatisfied with the way things are, don’t dismiss the feeling. Don’t complain either. Use the feeling as motivation to find a better way.

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

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