Innovators Don’t Outwork Non-innovators, They Out-think and Out-execute Them


Ask any person or team who’s ever worked on and delivered a better future about their process and they’ll tell you it was a messy journey; not a straight line. Those of us who’ve been in the trenches know that delivering the future doesn’t happen in a straight line, as most things rarely do, yet most people want to believe there’s a silver bullet prescription, secret, hack, tip and the like to follow to avoid the mess that is innovation.

There isn’t one.

Sure, there are methodologies that are growing with popularity every day but following them to the T doesn’t guarantee anything. You might eliminate a few headaches here and there but for the most part their value is in helping you think through things, giving you a sense of security and certainty; not giving you the right answer.

So, what’s the reality?

The Straight Line and Outworking Myth

Most entrepreneurs and Executives I know are just plain stubborn. They put in the hours and believe that’s the reason why they gotten to where they are. More than anything they’ve become addicted to following a routine that works, so it’s easy for them to fall pray to promises from prescriptive methods.

Follow this method + put in more hours to master = familiarity.

Today, there isn’t a day that goes by where you see posts, tweets and articles about how you’ll innovate if you follow some method. Think about it, if you give two teams a challenge and the same method to help them overcome a challenge; do you want them to come up with the same solution?

No. You want multiple ways to approach a challenge, not just one. So it’s not about method, its about perception.

The difference between innovators and non-innovators comes down to perception, and making decisions on where to place your bets, effort and time; not about putting in more hours following some method. It’s also about caring a lot more than others, being obsessed with an idea and having a “we’ll figure it out attitude“; that’s certainly been the case for me.

Last week Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp, wrote about the outwork myth:

Hours are never the differentiator — it’s never about working more hours than someone else. It’s about the decisions you make. How you spend your time, what you do and don’t do. Especially what you don’t do. The people who’ve made it didn’t make it because they worked harder than everyone else. There wasn’t someone 100 hours behind that would have made it had they put in 101.


It’s not about outworking:

People make it because they’re talented, they’re lucky, they’re in the right place at the right time, they know how to work with other people, they know how to sell, they know what moves people, they can tell a story, they can see the big and small picture in every situation, and they know how to do something with an opportunity. And so many other reasons. Working harder than other people is not the reason.

Our culture worships the workaholic. Sure, innovators are hard workers but it’s not the reason they make it. Working hard is a prerequisite for anything, but not the differentiator.

Bottom line: Scale and resources don’t guarantee innovation because innovation is as much about attitude and perspective as it is about process. A few people in a garage don’t out-innovate big companies because they follow a prescriptive process and out-work them, they do so because they out-think and out-execute them.

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