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The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson


Nobody Wants You to Be Creative

Innovation threatens established beliefs

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 - 12:01

“Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded—here and there, now and then—are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as ‘bad luck.’”
—Robert Heinlein

Your boss, your co-workers, your friends, and even your family don’t want you to be creative. They resent your trying to change the methods, practices, systems, and rules they are comfortable with. They think you’re a fool for wasting your time and money. Most of all, you’re scaring them by going against the norm.

Innovation requires change, and change is threatening to many. Especially if your idea will displace an established interest. Expect resistance.

In 1942, economist, Joseph Schumpeter coined the term: “creative destruction” in his book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 2008). It describes the process of transformation caused by innovation. That process begins when entrepreneurs, who generate new products or ways of doing things, destroy the value of older established companies who previously created new technologies that disrupted the companies that came before them. As an example, look at the history of recorded music: vinyl records and reel-to-reel tape were replaced by eight-track tape, which was replaced by cassette tape, which was replaced by compact disc, which has been replaced by MP3 players. Resistance is futile.

If your idea is any good, those established interests will first try to discredit it. The better your idea the more they will attempt to make it—or even you—look like a threat to society, children, or puppies. Alternative religions will be called cults. Alternative political systems will be condemned as the cause of chaos.

Whether it is an established industry, government, or religion, the people who hold the power will fight to keep it. They get to choose the direction and will reward those who follow without question. Those who are in charge of established organizations control the resources that enable them to preserve their way of doing things. This is why major corporations love regulation. They can afford it, but newcomers and upstarts cannot. Those who wish to innovate or make changes must have their own resources to promote their idea; otherwise they’ll grind along, perhaps for years, before they succeed—if ever. People rarely give up power.

For a company to embrace a culture of creativity, it means that employees must be allowed to act in ways that work against the strategies that made the company successful in the first place. Not many can see the value of doing this.

Success is often the antithesis of innovation. Great ideas create prosperous businesses, but that same success causes those one-time innovators to cling tight to that which got them there. Kodak’s R&D department invented the digital camera, but company executives saw it as a threat to their core business of selling film, photographic paper, and chemicals, so they did nothing with it. Kodak is now struggling as a company.

That explains why powerful, successful organizations shun creativity. But what about your family and friends? When you look at creative people, you see risk takers, rule breakers, and non-conformists, who are flexible in their strategies, yet so persistent in reaching their goal that they will keep going despite failure after failure. In other words, they’re just plain weird, and that makes most people uncomfortable.

Most people follow the majority. They seldom question authority. That is why fake news has become so prevalent. People simply accept what they are told.

Creativity causes uncertainty, which in turn causes insecurity. Most people want to avoid that. In fact, they tend to attack things that are new to them. That is why there is so much pressure to conform.

That conformity begins when we’re young. For example, elementary school teachers typically don’t like creative students because they are more disruptive and tend to ignore the rules. Obedient students are easier to deal with and require less of their attention. Kids who step out of line get reprimanded.

You see, as we grow up, we accept certain ideas (about philosophy, religion, politics, and even science), we then build our lives around these ideas to give ourselves a sense of security, stability, and predictability. To be innovative means you must be willing to question those precious beliefs.

We’re comfortable doing things the way they have always been done. Newness, however, is mystifying. We don’t know how it will work. Something might go wrong. It might be dangerous. Besides, having to learn a new way of doing things is an inconvenience.

On the other hand, incremental ideas are more easily accepted. A radical idea—regardless of its benefits to all involved—will take more time and effort to convince people of its value. If people feel unsure or insecure about making a change, they will have negative opinions about it. The more insecure someone feels, the less they will be able to recognize the benefits of a new idea. We call these people stubborn.

Most people are only willing to take the innovative risks when they are desperate, already failing, and out of options. Situations such as when a quarterback makes a Hail Mary Pass in the last seconds of a game. It is this sort of innovation that inspired the well known adage: Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

People and companies love to give lip service to wanting creativity, but the truth is, only the creativity which leads to a useful and profitable innovation ever gets celebrated.

So, don’t feel bad when no one supports your crazy ideas—just understand that they are simply afraid. Follow your passion and follow your dream. Even if your effort fails, you’ll learn something that may be useful in your next attempt. And, from my perspective there is nothing more fulfilling than the natural high you get from being enmeshed in the creative process.



About The Author

The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson’s picture

The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson

Robert Evans Wilson Jr. is an author, humorist, and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Wilson is also the author of the humorous children’s book The Annoying Ghost Kid, which was self-published in 2011. For more information on Wilson, visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.


As the comedian Gallagher

As the comedian Gallagher stated, "When the teacher sent me to the office, I told the principal, 'OK, I won't be smart in school any more!'".