To innovate, to do something truly novel and new requires a host of the right conditions. To make something valuable first necessitates a hole in the marketplace that isn’t being served adequately yet. To fill that hole will almost always require intelligence, intuition and creativity; it will most certainly demand tireless work. But there’s one thing many observers fail to recognize — arrogance is also a precondition to innovation.
In the scenario outlined above, a prospective innovator had to identify a market inefficiency, then ideate a possible solution to that inefficiency; that solution must be useful (or at least desirable) to humanity for it to be worthwhile. The step many people overlook in the process, which is every bit as critical as perspective to identify the deficiency, creativity to solve it, or resolve to be successful in so doing, is an absolute belief in oneself that not only can you solve that problem, but that you should be the one doing the solving. And, to top it all off, your creative solution is in fact the right one for humanity.
When put in those terms, an observer would have to conclude that our fictional innovator is a bit full of him or herself. I mean, unless you’re Albert Einstein or Nikola Tesla, how can you be sure you’re the right person to solve a problem that either no one has solved yet, or hasn’t been solved correctly as you see it.
The truly great innovators are usually individuals of singular vision and purpose. To borrow from a historical anecdote, they throw their hats over the wall such that they have no choice but to follow. Think of Elon Musk just deciding electric cars and residential power storage, powered by solar, are the way of the future. So he takes literally all of his personal fortune to start Tesla Motors and build the Giga Factory. He then provides the seed capital for Solar City, sits on its board, and remains its largest shareholder. Seeing space as a frontier not being adequately served by humanity, he launches SpaceX to send America’s best and brightest from NASA into space. To see all these holes in the market takes vision. To decide he was the one to solve them takes the right kind of arrogance.
Steve Jobs was not a hardware genius. He did not know how to build a motherboard or code software that would change the entire world. But he had a solitary vision of what technology, at its core, could do for humanity if utilized to its full extent. If hardware and software and design and form could come together harmoniously, it could change the way humans live forever. That gave us the iPhone, delivering the entirety of stored human knowledge to our hands, on demand, all the time.
While it might smack of Ayn Rand to claim these individuals were successful because they weren’t bogged down by committees of collaborators who altered these titans’ of innovation plans for what would become worldwide phenomena, there is some truth there. Jobs and Musk rely heavily on a massive team of collaborators. Musk isn’t a rocket scientist any more than Jobs is a hardware engineer. But, what these men understood is that real innovation requires vision and the dedication to see it through to the end. An innovator must remain true to that vision, eyes focused on the prize despite the naggings of everyday setbacks or timid collaborators.
No, to be an innovator requires arrogance. Not the type of arrogance that makes a person self-obsessed and obnoxious to be around, but a steadfast belief in oneself that just because a particular problem hasn’t been identified or solved yet, doesn’t mean you haven’t found one or aren’t the right person to solve it. To be an innovator, you have to be arrogant enough to believe that you are indeed the one who can and should solve that problem.
Whether it’s something as big as revolutionizing human interaction or launching a mobile app that changes the way your company does business, innovation only comes with a healthy bit of arrogance.
Don’t be too timid to seize it.