Blue Water Thinking: Why deep innovation is so hard

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. --  Albert Einstein Deep innovation is really hard.  If you have ever swum in the open ocean, far from any shore, and at depths too deep to plumb, you know the visceral feeling of blue water swimming.  It has been reported that many divers lose their way when doing blue ocean diving because without any reference point they even forget to follow their bubbles to the surface.

As human beings we have a hard time when there are few reference points.  In fact, I think that one of the reasons we have so few breakthrough innovations in business models or products is because we neglect the emotional side of thinking in open space.

Three things come to mind as to why Blue Water Thinking is hard:

  1. Our education and corporate systems reinforce quick, incremental answers, and never train people to deal with the loneliness or emotions we face when doing something really new.  I think this is why about fifty percent of doctoral candidates never finish their dissertation.  It's not a lack of work ethic, but rather they don't know how to navigate when there are few constraints.
  2. People rarely talk about this issue. It is assumed that the incremental creativity that we undertake is sufficient.  I believe that this type of "closing down" is a byproduct of our inability to individually, and collectively deal with something truly new.  Heck, Andrew Wesman a 21 year old Harvard student almost did not send in his film to Cannes because it cost $80.  Thank goodness his girlfriend told him to do it because his film was selected from thousands of entries and it's featured at this coveted event.
  3. Genius is not predictable, and therefore education and management systems are not tolerant of breakthrough thinking because it may not come, and certainly does not come consistently and on time.

It is this lack of Blue Water Thinking ability that dooms us to sameness.  (See my post on Waiting on Genius.)  Every once in a while you get a Steve Jobs, but our system selects against them and instead many geniuses go and manage money or do other known professions where their brilliance yields predictable returns.

So, does your organization encourage or discourage Blue Water Thinking?

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Why Innovation Struggles: The triumph of explication over imagination

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