Innovation: Perfection Vs Discovery

NASA discovery: Sun is not perfect sphere

NASA discovery: Sun is not perfect sphere

Innovation is not about perfecting what we already know and do. All that does is bring our industry to parity on thin margins. Innovation is about doing the opposite and getting the opposite result.

Innovation is about going out to discover what we do not know, then applying that to our business opportunities in a way which makes our ideas make more money.

There is a natural tendency among managers in times like these  – credit crunch/financial meltdown/global rip-off/call it what you will – to hunker down and play safe.

Fear makes us back away into what we know, expect and feel comfortable with. Of course that means avoiding risk and, as any first year business student knows, risk and reward are positively correlated. So, right now, all but the brave are headed away from opportunities to increase rewards, profits and their own reputations.

Many of these are the same people who will have panicked and sold their shares and properties in a falling market and will now wait too long to buy back in.

On the other hand there are those who always seem to come out of a downturn better off than ever.

The difference comes down to outlook and how you act on it; to whether we are:



Searching for DISCOVERY

How does those different orientations affect our decisions and the likelihood of a profitable outcome?

Well, when we are judging or feeling judged against PERFECTION we are driven by:

Right and Wrong

Judgement by ourselves and others

Probability and fear of failure

Unwillingness to take risks

Anxiety and ultimately


On the other hand when we are searching for DISCOVERY we are motivated by:

Inquiry and creativity

Acceptance (the ability to get over it and grow)

Learning from successes and mistakes

Willingness to take risks

Excitement and


Companies like Procter & Gamble have an end-to-end innovation process which starts with the DISCOVERY outlook at the ideation stage and phases it out until it is totally replaced with the PERFECTION outlook as the project passes into the implementation stage.

P&G does not stop there. They also have an Open Innovation approach through which actively seek innovators outside the corporation with whom they can partner or from whom they can license or buy innovations outright.


In his book Tribes, Seth Godin wrote that:

“Organizations that destroy the status quo, win.”

To do that you can’t stay hung up on perfecting the known. You need to be discovering the new.

If you’re avoiding taking some of the risks involved you’d probably better pray that your competitors are just as reluctant and just as unambitious.

(With thanks to Michael Charles)


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