It is too easy and wrong to think that innovators are egocentric, always admiring themselves and their accomplishments in the mirror. They are confident but not self absorbed and impervious to outside input. If anything innovators are vulnerable, self aware, and open to diverse and critical input to improve their ideas and concepts. The view they see while looking into a mirror is more like the wavy one in the circus fun house that reflects a distorted view. A view that always causes a gasp and accentuates flaws that need serious work and improvement. Innovators know they must improve in order to find better ways to deliver value and solve real world problems.
Innovators spend very little time looking in the rear view mirror. They tend to be forward thinking and looking. It is important to learn from the past but innovators are never bogged down in it or constrained by the way things have always worked. Innovators tend to be market makers rather than share takers. Understanding how a market has worked in the past is helpful but innovators like to tinker across markets to envision and create an entirely new market model or system.
Looking in the rear view mirror magnifies the view from behind making objects seem closer than they really are. This distorted view puts too much emphasis on the past and is troubling to an innovator trying to create the future. While situational awareness is important innovation is about creating new and better ways to deliver value. It is about moving forward and away from intransigent models and systems that only appear larger in the rear view mirror than they really are. Fixating on the past looming large in the mirror is not helpful other than to motivate the innovator to enable change faster.
The side view mirror offers a different but equally distorting view. You know the mirror that has etched on it the words ” objects in mirror are closer than they appear”. Its convex shape is designed to provide a wide-angle view. Innovators love wide-angle lenses that provide a larger perspective and world-view. But the side view mirror makes images appear further away than they really are. If anything innovators are guilty of the opposite. Seeing innovation so clearly that they see it happening sooner than it is likely to.
Innovators are optimistic by nature and in my experience not the best at predicting market timing. They are great at seeing opportunities and passionately working toward making them a reality but tend to think they will come to fruition sooner than they actually do. How many innovators drove by a Blockbuster video store shaking their head saying all of this video content will be distributed digitally making the bricks and mortar stores obsolete. They were right of course it is just taking longer to happen. That is usually the case with innovation. Innovators think their innovations are closer than they appear in the side view mirror.
OK, enough with the mirrors. Innovators, mirrors, and admiring the past are not compatible. Let’s look forward. Innovators are trying to create the future and agree with Gibson when he said the future is already here it is just unevenly distributed. Standing in the future and building a path to it is the innovator’s opportunity. Eyes forward, let’s create the future together.
Saul Kaplan is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF). Saul shares innovation musings on his blog at It’s Saul Connected and on Twitter at @skap5.