Inventors Have the Faith of a Child

Adults make plans. They lean on their experience to repeat patterns of the past. Children have no such patterns to cloud innovative thinking. Innovation is a way of life for a child. They have no routine. No patterns. No proven models to use again and again. So, children are free to come up with brand-new ways of solving brand-new problems.

Before we begin to reinvent the advertising and media strategy for your brand, it’s critical that your team builds its foundation on a strong philosophy toward invention. It’s important to note that successful inventors are often described as being humble with curious and child-like passions. They seem almost disinterested in protecting their pride.

Consider the stereotype of the absent-minded inventor. Such stereotypes are born of reality. Often, forgetful minds are driven to solve problems in new ways simply because they lack the skill to remember. These inventors are not inhibited by pride in their experience, simply because they couldn’t recall the past if they wanted to. Often, these inventors have been made fun of their entire life for having this characteristic. Many did terrible in school because they could not recall specific facts for a simple test. This has been the record of school drop-outs such as Edison and my grandfather. However, this forgetful trait makes their minds humble and therefore powerful to imagine new possibilities like children can.

A child-like mind is powerful if managed by the discipline of an adult. Children have no fear. When it comes to invention, fear of failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People never succeed when they are afraid to try. That’s why invention never takes place in a culture of fear. As leaders, we must control our temptation to protect our pride. Like children, we must charge through our fear of failure. We must encourage a culture that rewards the attempt and seeks the learning, rather than punishing negative outcomes. To succeed, we must learn to hope, trust and believe like a child believes.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

– Henry Ford

Inventors, like leaders in any good endeavor, will passionately affirm the importance of a “no lose” mindset. That means they have a keen understanding of the science of trial and error. The great ones will tell you it’s impossible to lose, because success brings satisfaction, but failure brings wisdom. As Nelson Mandela said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”

My grandfather was an inventor. I learned a lot about innovation philosophy from him. He had a hand in many mechanical wonders we take for granted today, from the axles on our cars to the hydraulic garbage truck compactor. I used to love his stories about how he built a shop in Detroit to invent things that were used to win World War II. He would also tell me how invention is not about brains or education. He described invention as an attitude of faith and hard work. It’s about believing you can do anything you are willing to work for.

To inventors like my grandfather, “impossible” is just a word lazy people use as an excuse to give up. It seems that invention requires a well-developed tolerance for failure and starting over. My grandfather was often called “lucky,” to which he would paraphrase Thomas Jefferson with the response, “That’s true, I am lucky, but it seems that the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

There is no rest for inventors, because innovation isn’t a one-time event; it’s the constant lifeblood that flows within any successful leader or growing company. Great companies are defined by creating the game that their competitors will eventually be forced to play in. But even successful companies that invented the industry they lead must always innovate to keep up with the competition.

That doesn’t mean your brand must always be first to market, but it’s important to be the first to integrate other people’s inventions to solve an unmet demand. Keep in mind: Henry Ford didn’t invent the car. He didn’t even invent the steering wheel or the assembly line. Long before Ford Motor Company, Packard invented the steering wheel and Oldsmobile invented the assembly line.

What Henry Ford actually did invent was a platform to ride the unmet wave of demand for the world’s first affordable car. Although today we view Henry Ford as the father of the Industrial Revolution, Henry Ford himself said he would drive “the second industrial revolution,” which began in 1870, decades before the Model-T.

Not everything that will be invented has been invented yet. If it wasn’t too late for Henry Ford to become known as the father of the Industrial Revolution, it’s not too late for you to lead your generation.

– Excerpt from: Surfing The Black Wave: Brand Leadership in a Digital Age