Innovation Has No Experts

Innovation Has No Experts

Innovation is the opposite of what people think it is; it’s messy and there’s nothing glamorous about it. Anyone who’s been in the trenches will tell you that they don’t really know what’s going to happen. That’s because experience is not a prerequisite for innovation; it’s not. What you gain from venturing out into the unknown and trying to figure out a way forward is grit; you get comfortable with ambiguity.

The innovator’s motto is “we’ll figure it out”, because the experience you gain as an innovator is that you simply make peace with the fact that there is a high probability of failure; and your experience is really based on following the scientific method.

I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 23 years old. Ups and downs. I’ve done “innovative” and non-innovative stuff. For the non-innovative stuff there was precedent, and I simply did what existed in my own way. For the innovative stuff, there was no precedent and I simply experimented my way forward.

The keyword in all of this is “experimented”. My experience has taught me that there is no innovation without experimentation. I’ve been called an expert because I’ve gained experience doing this stuff. Yes, there are creativity experts. But there are no innovation experts. When I’ve gotten called an innovation expert, I humbly reply, “thank you, but there are no experts of the new”.

There are no experts of the new

By it’s very definition, the new is unknown. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Therefore, there are no experts of the new. If anything, those of us who like to blaze our own trails and are comfortable with the unknown could be considered experts in dealing with ambiguity.

Anyway, the literature about innovation provides some guidelines but it’s not like following a recipe to make hot cakes. If you’re an expert, it means you’ve been doing something for a long time and can produce predictable results. Like I said, innovation is the opposite of predictable; it’s messy. Sorry, but templates and frameworks will not answer the unanswered questions that doing innovative stuff poses; they certainly help but don’t bet your money on it.

Experimentation is a valuable skill all innovators posses. So if you want to call someone an expert, look at how well they deal with ambiguity and their propensity for experimentation. That’s a better way to assess someone claiming to be an expert of the new.

Also published on Medium.