Ready for Innovation

A friend of mine develops curricula for a big company. He presented one such template for success and his bosses went crazy for it. The irony, he told me, was that he presented the very same curriculum two years before and the response was "meh." I have noticed this phenomenon throughout my personal and professional life. People need to be cognitively and--more important--emotionally available to explosive new ideas before embracing them. And the fastest way to make people embrace disruptive concepts is to make those concepts an actuality.

For instance, I have had many conversations with friends about my eager anticipation for self-driving cars being the norm on Long Island. Not one person I have talked to about it has responded in immediate agreement. The response is usually along the lines of "people don't want to give up driving" or "I would be worried about leaving all of the decision-making up to computers." Of course, these are all reasonable responses. Because the coolness factor is not enough.

I have noticed a stubbornness in myself, as well as friends, colleagues, and clients--even so-called "early-adopters"--after making a decision. I have come to believe we link our actual identities to the totalities of our decision-making. We have decided we are this type of person. We have decided we do this and not that. And it will practically take an army to make us change our minds. Because that demands a change to our very selves.

It shakes us to the core to discover that we have the capacity to be repeatedly wrong. The incentive to embrace a previously dismissed idea has to be so powerful as to make us rethink our very selves.

So Elon Musk tells people he's working on space tourism, and we roll our eyes. A few SpaceX rockets explode, and our skepticism is confirmed. We don't notice later on when SpaceX delivers a payload to the International Space Station. And we read about Musk's Tesla nd how it has an autopilot feature, and we say, "We would never just leave it up to a car to drive itself." We read about the first fatality and we say "You see? We're not ready for this." We ignore the millions of miles safely driven on autopilot--feeding crucial data to the company to make it even safer--already proving humans are worse drivers than computers. Eventually, we will embrace these technologies, and Musk will surely ask, "What took you so long?"

I think we really don't like great ideas. We would much prefer decent comfortable ideas that don't knock us off our perches. For this reason, when people work tirelessly to develop something truly innovative, it may make sense to work tirelessly on a detailed strategy for changing hearts and minds. Either that or get it built quick. And right. And get people talking about how world-changing it is.