Innovation happens gradually, then suddenly.


There’s a rhythm to innovation. It’s controlled, not urgent. Ernest Hemingway said it best: “Success from innovation comes in two ways: gradually, then suddenly.” I’m paraphrasing and, admittedly, he was talking about bankruptcy, but let me explain.

Change has its own pace and its impact on us is often gradual. Sitting at your desk, the change you are working on is planned for the future – maybe a week away, or a month, or a year. But not tomorrow. As a result, planning for the future is usually when we are at our most considered.

Have a think about yesterday. There’s every chance that not so much is different today. But think about how things look since last year: the new car, the house move, the job change, the new partner…

Most of these events weren’t sudden. Things happened over time. Some had a radical effect on you. Some just slid into your life. Some planned for and some unexpected, but still not sudden.

Innovation has a similar velocity. It isn’t urgent in the same way that renovation (Horizon 1) and invention (Horizon 2) need to be. It’s a controlled process of thoughtful decision-making that has long-term impact. The effect of being innovative is that you can significantly alter the business path for years to come. Switching direction may actually be course correction if you see a threat to your plan, but generally, innovation isn’t a concept that has immediate, revenue-affecting impact on what we do.

That said, there is a problem: we struggle to know how much to believe. Now is when we know the least about the future. Now, we must draw conclusions about the people that will use our products and services, and about our competition. And the nature of market research is that it responds to what we ask through the lens of what we can see happening today.

Planning for a future that has no absolute specification needs a different attitude. Read the signs. Build possible scenarios. Test the products we think will work and decide which way to go. Then review, review, review.

This is the method that we bring to future thinking. Future-proofing your business takes steady effort, energy and tenacity. It takes ambition and imagination. It doesn’t need reaction and urgency. Take your time and get it right.

If you’re working on a 12-month timeline, we’ll forgive you for being less than interested in long-term strategy. But if you’re a CEO, and already aware of the need to change, an effective innovation strategy will make a difference.

Keeping your plan on track is hard work. But it does pay back: gradually, then suddenly.

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.