Innovation is the Triumph of Hope over Experience

by Jeffrey Phillips

Innovation is the Triumph of Hope over Experience

Oscar Wilde, perhaps one of the most acerbic and humorous writers of the 19th century, once commented that a second marriage after a failed first marriage was the “triumph of hope over experience”. His point was that people continued to pursue marriage, even in the face of bitter previous failure. Now Wilde was a bachelor, and also unable to marry in his time, since he was gay, and may have had a bit of snark in his writings, but his point remains. People who do the same things over and over again, expecting different results, could be equated to Einstein’s theory that doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Does this make innovators, especially committed corporate innovators, insane or simply like a cuckolded spouse seeking out a new relationship? What kind of person does it take to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune and continue in their belief that innovation is good for their companies and good for customers? Sorry, I couldn’t resist another literary reference.

Not Insane, Not Defeated Just Committed

What I’d like to say about most corporate innovators who try and try again, in the face of overwhelming odds, little executive commitment, few resources and many cultural barriers is that they are doing important work. The handful who constantly attempt to conduct new innovation experiments, who explore and experiment to discover new technologies or needs, and bring new ideas to bear, aren’t crazy, they are rarely defeated and very committed.

You’ve heard by now that failure is required as a component of innovation. You’ve heard that in many TED talks and YouTube videos. You’ve heard it from your executive team. You know it’s probably true. It’s difficult to achieve perfection in the activities you undertake every day, using well-known tools and proven processes. How much more difficult will it be to succeed at generating new ideas for unknown customers solving currently unmet needs?

Hope and Experience

Here’s where good corporate innovators make a subtle shift. It’s not “hope over experience”, it is hope AND experience. That is, good innovation is based on previous experience, both with successful innovation and with failure. To return to Oscar Wilde, “experience is the name we give our mistakes”. Experience is the culmination of our successes and failures and the learning we achieved along the way. Good innovators are always optimistic – full of hope, and mix that hope with the experience they’ve gained along the way.

Most people who attempt to do innovation in almost any setting are neither hopeful nor experienced. Most expect that the innovation work will be pointless, and haven’t succeeded or failed at innovation previously, so they have little hope and no experience. We must change this by allowing people to try out small experiments – gaining experience – and by changing corporate culture and communications, to give people more confidence and more purpose, which will lead to more hope. Until people have more hope AND more experience, it’s difficult to sustain any innovation activity.

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Image credit: Pixabay

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Jeffrey Phillips has over 15 years of experience leading innovation in Fortune 500 companies, federal government agencies and non-profits. He is experienced in innovation strategy, defining and implementing front end processes, tools and teams and leading innovation projects. He is the author of Relentless Innovation and OutManeuver. Jeffrey writes the popular Innovate on Purpose blog. Follow him @ovoinnovation

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