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Understanding the Law of Patience in the Innovation Cycle

As humans, we naturally lack patience. This is even more true with innovation. We picture brilliant innovations in our mind and we launch into those projects brimming with excitement and enthusiasm. But as the project wears on, the sparkle of a new idea fades, and the pressures of deadlines, budgets

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
Understanding the Law of Patience in the Innovation Cycle

As humans, we naturally lack patience. This is even more true with innovation. We picture brilliant innovations in our mind and we launch into those projects brimming with excitement and enthusiasm. But as the project wears on, the sparkle of a new idea fades, and the pressures of deadlines, budgets, and results mount. We fail at understanding the law of patience.

We want innovation to become a reality now—heck, yesterday. But the cold, hard truth is this: Innovation will take longer than you expect, and if innovation is indeed your goal, then you better get used to it. If you're hoping to create real innovation in your industry, embracing the law of patience will be a critical part of your success.

Impatience Kills Innovation

One of the greatest threats to innovation is impatience. Managers and executives start to see the money, time, and resources add up and they lose sight of the progress being made. In response, they apply more pressure on the resources dedicated to the project. They set harder, less attainable deadlines. Mistakes get made, and decisions get rushed. A once promising and steadily progressing innovation falters, falls apart, and then fail—all because management wanted to see innovation done fast, not right.

So, Why Do You Need Patience?

Innovation takes time—often, more time than we expect. In some cases, you might find that innovation takes years, or even decades, to move to the stage you once envisioned. Embracing innovation, however, means embracing patience along with it. When you're patient with the innovation process, you’ll find several key advantages.

  • You experience greater levels of success because you're willing to look at the big picture and wait for the perfect moment instead of jumping the gun.
  • You have time to let ideas play out to the end, rather than forcing your innovations through too fast.
  • You'll do your research more thoroughly. That means you'll know more about your customers, their needs, and their opinions.
  • You'll avoid budget pitfalls that could ruin your innovation cycle before it begins.

All too often, the “Rule of 18” cuts off promising projects before they have the chance to reach their fullest potential. If a project has been in the works for over 18 months, it's scrapped without a second thought. While this is fine for businesses with short innovation cycles and low creative needs, it simply isn't as effective for a business that's hoping to create innovation across their field.

Law of Patience and Your Innovation Cycle

There are four facets to adding patience to your innovation cycle. First, you must acknowledge how long the process will really take. That means taking an honest look at the time, manpower, and materials that will be needed in order to accomplish your goal. When you know what you really need to execute an idea, you'll be less likely to cut it off too soon.

Second, you need checkpoints along the way—not budget checkpoints, but checkpoints that allow you to gauge the project and see how it is progressing.

  • Is it going smoothly?
  • What has been accomplished already?
  • What still needs to be accomplished?
  • What is a reasonable timeframe in which to expect a checkpoint to be met?

Create, and then continuously re-evaluate, a timeline for how you’d like to move your innovation along.

Once those checkpoints are in place, be realistic about them. Don't use them as an excuse to shut down your innovative project before it has the chance to succeed. Instead, use them as a chance to see what is needed for the success of the project. How can you better reach your goals? Are more materials, people, or equipment needed? Shift those resources as needed after each checkpoint. If you’re not meeting certain milestones within the expected timeframe, take a hard look at why, instead of simply cutting the idea off altogether.

Finally, always explore your options before deciding to give up on a project. Is there any way that it could still be successful? Why are you really letting it go? Never shut down a project because of pressure or because it's taken too long to complete. Instead, end it only when you're sure that you're no longer able to meet your initial goals and that the project won't succeed in another way.

True Innovation Takes the Long View

There are many occasions when the vision is in place, the idea has been conceived, and yet the innovation takes longer than expected to get off the ground. True innovators, however, will take the long view. They look at all the factors in the equation: how long it's going to take to create a new product or service, how long it will take to mass-produce it or teach others to create it, and how long it will take to make it a reality. The basis of why the law of patience is important.

Law of Patience

Innovation will not happen overnight, but successful innovators learn to keep their impatience in check.

They're willing to go the distance and wait for innovation, even when it would be easier to throw in the towel and start with something else.

In a society that sees new innovations with every passing day, it's difficult to embrace this key principle of innovation. What most people don't see, however, is all the effort that goes on behind the scenes. Innovation takes time. Killer innovation takes even more time. When you commit to innovation, stick with it! It could be the best thing you ever do for your company.

Want to learn more about sticking to your innovation principles or implementing a new program of innovation within your company? Check out Techtrend.

BlogCulturecreativityInnovationinnovation cycleLeadershipinnovation management

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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