Make friends with the Innovation Unicorn!

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Because real innovation is usually unbelievable, not “normal”, and often misunderstood. But if you’re okay with wearing rose-tinted sunglasses sometimes, chances are you will spot life-changing innovations before everyone else catches on.

It is widely known that the Wright brothers are responsible for pioneering aviation as we know it today. Can you imagine how excited the world must have been when they accomplished the first successful flight in 1903?

The truth is, nobody went bananas because nobody even noticed. Yes, that’s right. This monumental achievement was not even published in any newspapers or reported on until May 1908. It took more than four years for the party to get started.

When the general public first started seeing the Wright brothers flying about in 1905, they thought it was some kind of trick. Instead of being jubilant and applauding this milestone in human history, everyone seemingly struggled to wrap their minds around it. One should almost breathe a sigh of relief that the Wrights weren’t burned at the stake for their acts of “sorcery”.

“Evidently, it’s one thing to change the world, but another to convince people that you have, in fact, changed the world.”

Our blatant resistance to change is evident in the stories of some of the world’s greatest innovations.

Alexander Graham Bell, for example, experienced a profound lack of enthusiasm when he first tried to sell his invention of the telephone to the Western Union, who dismissed it as a novelty with no value. It took them several years to believe in this particular unicorn, but by that time Bell’s patents were no longer within reach – he had already started building his telecoms empire.

Over the past hundred years or so, you’d think we would have gotten better at spotting great innovations…or have we? The concept of 3D printing, which has only just come into the limelight, has been around since 1989. Photovoltaic technology (a.k.a. solar power) was invented in 1876. Yes, 1876. It has taken 124-odd years for us humans to realise and actualise its potential as an alternative power source.

Even the prospect of trading in your horse for a machine with wheels didn’t excite the populous. A mere twenty years before Henry Ford brought cars to the masses, memos released by the U.S. Congress to highlight the absurdity of “horseless carriages propelled by gasoline”. We may laugh now at the folly of our predecessors who couldn’t imagine driving a motorised “carriage”, but we too are guilty of mocking innovations that we’re incapable of fathoming. Driverless cars? Robot colleagues? Deep down, we like to pretend it will never happen.

“Driverless cars? Robot colleagues? Deep down, we like to pretend it will never happen.”

The fact is that we don’t need to hide away from these “big breakthroughs” that change our cozy existence. As it turns out, these type of breakthroughs aren’t actually that big. According to journalist, Morgan Housel, they have an arduous, 7-step path to follow before we let them into our lives:

To begin with, no one knows about the breakthrough or innovation. It all happens in someone’s basement (or in the case of the Wright brothers, right above our heads). Next, people start hearing about the invention but think it’s a bit wacko. If someone tells you about it, you blush and omit a nervous giggle.

Slowly an understanding of the new “thing” grows and it becomes harder to ignore as a concept, but most people still think it has no value.

We revert back to the safety of group consensus and agree that the invention is a gimmick, or a toy. But suddenly, people realise that it’s actually a pretty fantastic toy… And they start using it!

Before long, everyone wants this amazing new thing and can’t live without it.

Somehow, these mythical breakthrough unicorns become real, even though they have to pass through our normality filter first. That’s just how long it takes for us humans to adjust, to believe. My challenge to you people of the future is to become more comfortable with crazy ideas that make the mind boggle and the eyes twitch.

Don’t wait until the new reality is staring you in the face and making you scared – make friends with innovation.

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