After all these years that I've studied and taught creativity and innovation, I am starting to believe that one element of the process is tougher for many people to accept than the rest -- that it is a messy and uncertain process and efforts to make the early messy stages more rational, safer, and generally neat and clean comforting get in the way of the process.
I confess that I suffer from wanting to get rid of this messiness now and then too, and in fact, during the early days of the Stanford d.school, I went to our founder and inspiration David Kelley and asked him to make things less confusing and upsetting, and in the nicest possible way, David said he couldn't, that we were involved in messy process and if I couldn't deal with it, perhaps I should do something else. I see the same instinct in how some university administrators and faculty react to the d.school, in that the love the innovation and creativity, but the physical messiness and lack of orderliness disturbs them. Now, we have developed techniques to help people navigate the messiness more effectively (notably the Bootcamp Bootleg) but the process is still messy and uncertain.
I was thinking of this because I was reading an article by Bill Coyne, who led R&D at 3M for over a decade. I met Bill about ten years ago, and he is very wise And he understands both the messiness and misguided impulse to clean it up. I loved this quote:
Finally, don't try to control or make safe the fumbling, panicky, glorious adventure of discovery. Occasionally, one sees articles that describe how to rationalize this process, how to take the fuzzy front end and give it a nice haircut. This is self-defeating. We should allow the fuzzy front end to be as unkempt and as fuzzy as we can. Long-- term growth depends on innovation, and innovation isn't neat. We stumble on many of our best discoveries. If you want to follow the rapidly moving leading edge, you must learn to live on your feet. And you must be willing to make necessary, healthy stumbles.
Given all this, innovators still are often surrounded by people who want to give their process "a nice haircut." How can this be stopped? And perhaps I am being to closed-minded. Do any of those haircuts ever work?