All of us must have experienced Kanter’s Law: “Everything can look like a failure in the middle.”
The great innovation writer Rossabeth Moss Kanter highlights how everyone loves inspiring beginnings and happy endings.
It is in the middle however, where the realization that the vision and ideas is actually harder to do than anyone had initially thought. It is here where the hard work kicks in, the tough challenges of implementation emerge, and temptations of the next enticing rainbow appear. Funds and support runs out before victory is in sight
Yet, stop your effort too soon, pull the plug and by definition you create a failure. Post cognitive dissonance kicks-in and all the previous doubts and niggles coalesce into a convincing, ‘Yes, that project was indeed a failure’ confirmation.
I suppose the opposite to Kanter’s Law is what could be called ‘Nike Law’: “Just Do it”.
Yet I think this would be a too simplistic response. The reality is that life and innovation is a bit more complicated than that.
Innovation texts are littered with case studies and inspirational quotes of individuals, teams and organizations that somehow stuck at it, persevered to eventually succeed.
I don’t however, see that many case studies of the numerous examples where obstinate determination, led to good money and effort being wasted. Where an agony or a negative has needlessly been prolonged.
Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman reports how optimism kicks in when planning for any new project. Rather than accurately benchmark your situation by other similar experiences we get beguiled by the enticing vision and create over-stated, false hope for the do-ability of our new baby.
The innovation reality it seems is that to succeed we need some bi-polarity, both individually and in our teams and groups.
Those who master change have perseverance and stamina. Yet, they are flexible. By expecting obstacles on the road to success they only keep going for what matters.
Sure, intuition and passion are essential ingredients for success. But as the great Spanish philosopher George Santayana observed, a fanatic is someone who redoubles their effort when they have forgotten their aim
F. Scott Fitzgerald defined the sign of a first-rate intelligence as “to hold two opposing views in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Innovation author Scott Anthony similarly calls for what he labels ‘innovation bipolarity’ – an ability to switch between two modes of optimism and pessimism.
In my creativity and innovation training I co-opt the needs to think pessimistic with the need to thing ‘Big’; by creating a bigger mental landscape there will inevitably be oasis of optimism to harness and harvest.
Using this contrast technique will create sufficient polarity to ensure you have identified possible weaknesses and negatives to your ideas before others do.
Some tips I would share, partly inspired by Rosabeth Kanter, to ensure you overcome your ‘middle stage wobbles’ include:
1. Listen to your environment – what has changed in your context
2. Revisit your original assumptions which shaped your thinking: what assumptions did you make about your assumptions?
3. Check your existing support for your project – is it still with you?
4. Identify potential fresh support or impetus to generate new energies, new networks and synergies
5. Spot any early or quick wins with your project. What do they mean to you or your supporters? What can they mean?
6. Revisit your core brand story, your narrative about your project and update it. What ways it is the same story being extended, or is there a new story emerging?
7. Look honestly in the mirror: Don’t confuse passion for fanaticism
I had an initial idea for this article. I did actually it put it to one side when other immediate, urgent tasks emerged. But I revisited it, completed the text as a blog post. (Should I have continued as a White Paper, or even a book?)
I hope you are thinking I’m glad I overcome the middle stage sense of failure to complete this post.