Breakthroughs come when pressure is highest

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Jan 21

One of the fascinating aspects of business is how innovation occurs. Not that I’m in it for the products and services that companies innovate. No, I’m in it for how innovation impacts Cubicle Warriors in their careers.

Most studies show that what enhances innovation the most are constraints. For example, doing “art” with no constraints is not creative. Art from old shredded money from the Federal Reserve takes creativity. By having a constraint of only making something from old shredded money forces one to be innovative.

The MIT Sloan Management Review published an interview with Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard Business Professor focusing on innovation, and he notes that:

One of the banes of successful innovation is that companies may be so committed to innovation that they will give the innovators a lot of money to spend. And, statistically, 93% of all innovations that ultimately become successful started off in the wrong direction; the probability that you’ll get it right the first time out of the gate is very low.

So, if you give people a lot of money, it gives them the privilege of pursuing the wrong strategy for a very long time. In an environment where you’ve got to push innovations out the door fast and keep the cost of innovation low, the probability that you’ll be successful is actually much higher.

The breakthrough innovations come when the tension is greatest and the resources are most limited. That’s when people are actually a lot more open to rethinking the fundamental way they do business.

Sure, that’s about business. But it is also perfectly applicable to our careers. Right now there is tremendous pressure on each of us in our work. Will we keep our jobs? Will the company go under? Will I get ahead?

With the tension so high and easy jobs a thing of the past, we need to rethink our work. Do we love what we do? Are we excited about the work we are doing? Are we happy with the company we keep?

With limited resources and a tough environment, now is the time to focus on the innovation we need to get to the career work we want for the foreseeable future. It is all counter intuitive. But the bigger the constraints — and we have them in this job market — the bigger the innovative solutions.

How has your innovation helped you in your career?