Those who invent new things are often great admirers of history, while also having a healthy disrespect for what has already been achieved. They use the past not as a boundary but as the very frontier upon which to innovate.
Here we peruse just one chapter of Unwritten and pull out seven inspiring quotes, all of which will have you getting off your arse and changing the world quicker than you can say “Uber”.
1. The true nature of innovation
“The innovator’s dilemma is that when you are truly innovating, by definition there will be little evidence to support your thinking. If you could point to tried and tested models to validate your conclusions, what you are envisioning is not innovative; it is simply an improvement of ‘what already is’.
Thinking in terms of improving ‘what already is’ is what psychology calls ‘analogical reasoning’. More simply put, reasoning by analogy is to think in terms of ‘this is likely to work because it is similar to that’ or ‘what we are planning to do in the future is likely to work because it is similar to what has been done in the past’. Reasoning by analogy is the enemy of innovation. It encourages us to take the ‘safe’ option, because what we’re proposing has worked before, rather than wrestle with the uncertainty of doing something new.”
2. Wisdom and experience
“Great innovation is often the result of good judgement and a calm wisdom that has been steadily acquired over many years. This judgement comes from hard-fought experience, and that experience is the outcome of learning from the many ‘bad judgements’ made on our journey to create something new. Mastering innovation is the pursuit of a lifetime – so best to start now.”
3. The battle against wisdom
“Those who strive to create new things are quickly confronted by the stark reality that we live in a world that finds comfort in doing what is tried and tested. When your plans are not supported by data and the reassurance that evidence provides, you can find yourself being ridiculed, criticised or even completely ignored, by those who simply do not believe what you are setting out to do is plausible.
They all too easily close the door on your way of thinking because it’s new, it’s unfamiliar and it challenges the rules, in which they are invested. The battle against conventional wisdom therefore becomes the innovator’s greatest encounter.”
4. Einstein’s failure
“Einstein’s professors would often mistake his boredom for laziness. As a result, when he graduated from college, he was unable to get any letters of recommendation from his teachers, who believed he would never amount to anything. In the years that followed, he applied for countless teaching jobs and academic roles in high schools and colleges across Switzerland. Due to the lack of references, he was turned away from every major job he applied for, forcing him to take part-time jobs as a means of simply earning a living.”
5. Einstein’s success
In 1905, while still working six days a week as an unknown patent clerk in Bern, Einstein would write four papers that ultimately changed the way humanity thought about space, time and the universe. The subjects of those four papers were the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, the special theory of relativity and his famous equation E = mc2.
In writing these papers, Einstein confronted two centuries of scientific enquiry head-on – including the work of his greatest idol, Sir Isaac Newton – and challenged the very foundations of contemporary physics.
Had any scientist made just one of these discoveries in their entire career, they would be considered legendary. Einstein made four, in what would become known as the Annus Mirabilis, the Miracle Year. At the time, he was just 26 years of age and unable to get a job in academia. He possessed both courage and tenacity to think independently of existing consensus.”
6. No straight route to success
“True innovation in a particular field of endeavour often comes from people outside the traditional guard, as evidenced by the Impressionists and Einstein. It was the misfit who would not conform to convention who ultimately introduced a new way of thinking. This can also be seen in the world of business – mature enterprises by their very nature are often large, comfortable, risk averse and resistant to change.
This creates an environment where new ideas do not live long enough to see the light of day. The pioneer or the entrepreneurial upstart, however, has innovation built into their very DNA, creating the perfect conditions for disruptive ideas to grow. This is why disruption often occurs at a grassroots level, outside of the very institutions it threatens.”
7. Build a better future
“Inventing a better tomorrow begins with acknowledging, like so many pioneers before us, that the future does not need to resemble the past. History holds many examples of individuals who said ‘The future is going to look different to how we thought’, and often they were right. We need to resist the temptation to be confined by the past, but rather use it as a foundation upon which to stand, in order to get a glimpse into the future.”