Skip to content

Bechtel’s Impact Report

Can Innovators Become Sources of Inertia?

Innovating, or creating something new, requires a physical, and many times, an emotional investment.

As innovators expend energy discovering, developing, and maturing something new they become increasingly invested in the idea. Quite simply, the more challenges they overcome the more invested they become. As their resolve is strengthened they are more emotionally connected to the idea.  This is perfectly natural and often necessary for the idea to survive long enough to thrive, but it can quickly enter unhealthy territory. If the innovator attributes or connects their personal value to the value of their idea it can begin to cloud their judgment and create a bias against pivoting, releasing, or killing an idea – at this point the innovator has fallen in love with the solution.

Many of us have heard the quote “fall in love with the problem and not the solution” – as the innovator becomes more invested in the solution they progressively fall more subject to the Einstellung effect – predisposed to solve a problem with a specific solution.  This is when the innovator has the potential to become a creator of inertia rather than a creator of true disruption.

I’ve found the following IDEAS prompt (because what’s better than an acronym?) to be incredibly helpful in reinforcing positive responses and behaviors throughout the creation / innovation process.

I – initiate ideas rather than seek isolation

As an innovator, focus your creative energy on initiating or igniting an idea through the conceptualization and early development phases. Invest the emotional and physical energy in bringing the new idea into existence – fighting for the resources, space, and aircover for early prototyping and proof-of-concept demonstrations. And then as the idea gains momentum and begins to survive on its own merit without your guidance, let it go. Don’t isolate yourself with the idea. Release the idea when others embrace it as their own, unless you only ever want to specialize in a singular solution.

D – develop ideas early, but don’t defend against the engagement of others

The development of an idea requires a great deal of time, energy, space, and in some instances, capital. Spend the early days developing the vision beyond theoretical and into something tangible, and as appropriate, physical. The development of the idea will result in others beginning to capture and share your vision for the innovation. Don’t resist this increased interest from those who were likely early resistors or detractors – rather recognize they’ve been converted, share your vision, and now want to contribute to the success of the idea. The longer you defend against the engagement of others, the more inertia you create.

E – expand your influence, don’t erect barriers

Successful innovators will typically draw the attention of others – some parts wanted (accolades, recognition, awards, mentions, likes, follows, etc.), and other parts unwanted (resistance, arguments, negative press, active detractors, undermining, slander, etc.). Many different types of people are attracted to innovators – the cheerleaders, the replicators, the mimickers, and the skeptics.

Cheerleaders are exactly what they seem – they actively look to celebrate your success and the continued maturity of your idea, often aiding resources, aircover, and/or guidance. Welcome this support.

The replicators will want to see what you’re doing in hopes they can catch the magic and apply it to an idea or problem they’re trying to solve (think “the uber of…” or “the Netflix of…”).

The mimickers will observe and attempt to repeat exactly what they see you are doing to the same problem without understand the underlying principles (or first principles) – often times ineffectively.

And the skeptics are simply watching to see if you fail so they can celebrate and let you know that they, “told-you-so.”

All of these are very natural perspectives, and there’s a chance we’ve all fallen into one category or another at some point in our lives. As an innovator, recognize if you spend a little more time with each group, understanding the view they’ve adopted, you can probably convert, direct, or influence their energy to help advance your idea and goals. Don’t create barriers to their engagement, this just reinforces the inertia and negative competitive nature often found in change (who’s change are we going to adopt? Mine or yours).

Help the replicator and the mimicker understand the first principle approach you’ve taken to innovate and the core problem you’re trying to address; this also forces you to pause and articulate the problem more effectively. Take the time to explain your thoughts and decision-making process so that they might effectively apply the principles of change to the same or different problem.

Regarding the skeptics – it’s worth spending time to understand their objections and tease out whether they’re simply looking to be converted by a more compelling argument, or have they already established their view and are no longer seeking to be informed or learn. Those unwilling to learn may be a lost cause, but for the rest if you spend enough time they may become your strongest advocates.

A – accept and don’t avoid the help of late adopters

Don’t avoid those who may have initially been skeptics, mimickers, or replicators, just because they didn’t share your vision from the beginning. If everyone embraced your idea and agreed from the start, then it wouldn’t be disruptive or innovative. It takes time to convert the stragglers and late adopters, but when they come around make sure to accept their help and collaboration. If you avoid those who didn’t embrace your idea from the beginning, you create your own inertial barrier. Celebrate and don’t resent when skeptics, mimickers, and replicators begin to unknowingly pitch you your own idea.

S – share and don’t submerge your idea because of pride of ownership

Oftentimes, innovators are the best positioned for creating the initial seeds of ideas, products, and services, but not as well suited for maturation, operationalization, and scaling of the ideas. Consequently, it’s not unusual for innovators or founders to find themselves displaced by experienced CEOs. Similarly in corporate innovation programs, unless as an innovator you only ever want to solve a single problem or be associated with your current solution you should let the idea go and engage others who can operationalize and scale. Submarining to protect your idea, because of a pride of ownership, may be limiting your professional advancement as well as the success of your idea.

IDEAS is all about perspective and realizing you’re more effective when you influence others rather than isolating yourself from others. And the underlying truth is if you hold on to your innovation for too long you quickly become the barrier to further improvement and future innovation. Let past innovations retire gracefully and embrace the continuous wave of future innovation as it propels us forward.

Receive Bechtel updates