How Do You Innovate? First, Try to Get in Trouble

How do you innovate? First, try to get in trouble. I mean serious, but not terminal, trouble. “When life gives you a lemon …” It is a well-known trick that if you need something urgently done, give the task to the busiest (or second busiest) person in the office.

Most humans manage to squander their free time, as free time makes them dysfunctional, lazy, and unmotivated—the busier they get, the more active they are at other tasks. Further, my characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. These types often consider themselves the “victims” of some large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather.

– Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder 

Get in trouble. Go for stress. On purpose. That’s the path to better days ahead. Don’t be fragile. Be antifragile. (Antifragile — imagine a box that you mail with this stamped on it: “please mishandle”).

So, Antifragile is quite a read. Complicated, silly, arrogant, complex, profound… it is almost indescribable. I remember in one of Scott Peck’s books he described how the book-sellers never quite knew where to shelve his books. Is Antifragile a business book? Yes, no, I don’t really know…

Here is what he says. If you coast, you get lazy, and weak. You are tested by tests… stresses. And these stresses make you stronger. Until they don’t, and then you crater. So, you want just enough stress to get stronger (which is a lot of stress to make you much, much stronger), but not enough to “break” you.

You know, from Nietzsche: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” (Though Taleb argues that this does not quite get it right…)

Randy Mayeux


Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

2 responses

  1. A leader who wants to develop an organization of innovation must give their followers an environment where non-fatal mistakes are not only allowed, but encouraged. First task is to develop in them the ability to discern the difference between fatal and non-fatal mistakes, separating those that can be tolerated from those that can not. Second is to develop a culture that views mistakes and even failures as part of the innovation development process, something to be expected and rewarded. Third is to determine their followers’ stress tolerance sweet spots and create an environment that keeps them there. Between no stress and complete overload, every follower will have a level that keeps them innovating without burning them out. Some will thrive under more stress, some under less, and it is the leader’s job to know what it is for each follower and try to keep them there. Innovative organizations are possible, but it takes a leader who trusts his followers judgement, develops a culture of experimentation, and keeps awareness of their stress sweet spot.

  2. The key phrase is “non-fatal mistakes”. Thanks for the insight, Joseph!

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