A disposition for Innovation

This is certainly not a technical article, but as a technologist, this article rings true to my experience.

What's the best disposition that sets you up to innovate? Don't give a shit. Read on for an explanation.

I'd like to think I've done some innovative things. But when I hear the word innovator or innovation, a bunch of images swirl in my head-- most are quite negative and cliché for our day and age: A young up-and-comer who thinks they need to embody the worst traits of our best innovators in order to come across as successful. Not caring about cost, and trying too hard (all moonshots) to fail at endeavors (because that's what you're supposed to do right?). How about this one: resampling something great, barely tweaking what was done, slapping your name on it, and calling it innovation. Even better, carrying yourself around to take credit for that one thing you did way back when, and taking credit for the whole thing as a visionary-- when in fact it was a team effort, and you never gave credit to the team?

Don't call yourself a visionary, a leader, a luminary, a pioneer, a trailblazer, an evangelist, or at the very worst, an innovator. You might actually embody some of these characteristics, but it doesn't make your identity. Once you begin to take stock of all the things you've done, and begin to weave a story of success, forgetting about your wasted investments, whilst rounding off the corners of the struggle, or forgetting the teamwork that made this great thing happen, you become highly fragile-- constantly looking backwards and validating what happened, and telling yourself the stories that you'd like to hear over and over in your head, and lashing out at anything that might refute that story of success.

That's the beginning of the fall. It sucks, and it is the reason that most true innovation doesn't get followed up with further home runs. It's not that you get too comfy, it's that you believe that you've arrived, and if you're on a team where this dynamic becomes borne within just one team member, things can get toxic quickly. Labels and job titles that describe who you'd like people to think you are serve to strengthen the aforementioned complex. [Insert Signature, send email, and kick back in your chair with machinations of what the receiver might think of you.] I've got news: There are two camps of receiver to your self-proclamations of greatness. Some will seek to flatter you and validate this image of yourself (time and time again), and some just frankly won't give a shit. Both camps of people are important to the cycle of innovation for good reason.

The first camp (the flatterers) are really fun to party with. You'll find them at conferences, carrying around their titles, labels, and fancy +1 colorful conference badges. They know lots and lots of people, but their relationships are often shallow. Happenings of the industry are cliff-noted and retold, as if they were in on it. Everyone's their friend, nothing bad ever happens. In the marketplace, these folks will most successfully rise to the ranks of sales-- which is absolutely necessary. Some might occasionally be misplaced into a management role, where they spend much time overtaking and one upping their subordinates. Some might be placed in a technologist role, where they will fake it and make excuses until they're fired or get bored and move onto another unsuspecting firm or organization.

The second camp, the folks that don't give a shit. These folks aren't ignoring your greatness, they just either want you to prove yourself (so won't offer flattery), or (rare) they might see your label or title as a threat. This is the camp of the folks who work in teams to get things done. They don't need constant praise, because they get value from the work, not the retelling of the work. This camp is more likely to embody the real innovators. The story of the great work usually gets retold, just usually by the folks in camp one. Let them, it's their job.

I've honestly slid between both camps here. They both absolutely need to exist. But I've found myself lately just getting value and happiness from the pursuit of knowledge rather than power. I'm more in the second camp. Both camps, let's call them the tellers and the doers, are inextricably linked with one another in the cycle of innovation. But if you truly want to innovate, you must focus on the doing, with the humility of someone who doesn't give a shit about anything, except for the obstacle in the path. Let's decode the statement "humility of someone who doesn't give a shit". When taken out of context, this makes no sense. Here's what I mean by this statement: we're not talking about wonton disregard for all shits, we mean someone who sees little value in the shits that happened in the past (good or bad) as props to hoist oneself up on, corporate mythology to cloud the task at hand, or past things to sweep under the rug as failures. What is left is honest humility, and an eagerness to just make things happen-- and give no shits otherwise.

"For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." - Shakespeare

So start where you are now, and don't spend time worrying about proving your greatness to others, just go out and do the thing you're supposed to do. Do it well. Because in the end, the value is in the doing. Celebrations rarely last longer than a day, or even an hour. Let the others tell, they are there for a reason. At first glance most think it's to take credit for what you're doing-- while that might be a motive sometimes, please don't give a shit. The silver lining is that they afford you the time to keep learning and innovating.