Is it possible to have both credibility with the Establishment and freedom to innovate?
Seth Godin captures it beautifully in this snippet from his latest book, Poke the Box (2011), in which he encourages people to create and market new, valuable goods and services. Here he summarizes the “paradox of success”:
People with no credibility or resources rarely get the leverage they need to bring their ideas to the world.
People with credibility and resources are so busy trying to hold onto them that they fail to bring their provocative ideas to the world.
Bingo. In two sentences he explains why new, fresh, promising ideas face such a challenge in getting their due, and why people and organizations who have “made it” sometimes become timid and cautious.
There are exceptions to this dynamic, and not surprisingly they come from very successful enterprises that are in a position to risk some street cred.
Remember when Apple introduced its iPad? Many reviewers and computer industry gurus scoffed at this odd cross between a netbook computer and a smart phone, wondering if Apple had invested a ton of money and marketing into a clunker of a product that would soon disappear.
I felt the same way. I thought the iPad was a silly indulgence that had very little practical use. However, every time I stepped into an Apple store, I’d find myself playing with the iPads. And once the iPad 2 was announced, I knew I was a goner. (I now use mine regularly.)
Apple invented a market, created the conditions for that product to thrive (almost singlehandedly introducing the term “apps” into our lexicon), and now dominates that market — while its competitors serve up bad imitations.
Responsible risk taking
Okay, so Apple wasn’t exactly the corporate equivalent of Braveheart when it rolled out the iPad. Had it failed, customers would still be gobbling up Macs and iPhones. But it did demonstrate a willingness to be laughed at by those in the know…while saving the last laughs for itself.
Organizations and individuals who have established their credibility may have to make a judgment call on the worthiness of advancing a cutting edge idea or product, especially one that could undermine hard-earned credibility if it fails. But those who who play it safe often lose their edge and become pretty ordinary.
Starting out from scratch
That still leaves the question of folks at the starting gate. What if you’re a newcomer, an unknown, a novice, but you have a great idea that represents out-of-the-box thinking?
You’ll need perseverance and resourcefulness, plus a dose of good luck and the right timing.
However, because you’re not a known or prominent commodity, it’s possible that you’ll be greeted with dismissiveness rather than derision. There are advantages to being taken too lightly, not the least of which is the ability to move forward quietly, however haltingly, while the Establishment pretty much ignores you.
Once your idea or product gains some traction, people will take notice, and you may find yourself creating a new market or movement. This, of course, will grant you a big dose of credibility, in which case you’ll have to figure out what to do the next time you get a neat new idea.