I just finished reading Seth Godin’s new book Poke the Box. At first I thought it was just a long restatement of the truism that you must not be afraid of failure if you want to innovate; in fact, maybe I still think that. But there was a story towards the end of the book that brought it all to life for me. Godin quotes a man named Cory Doctorow at length as he’s reflecting on becoming a father for the first time. It begins, “Mammals invest a lot of energy in keeping track of the disposition of each copy we spawn…we invest so much energy and so many resources in our offspring that it would be a shocking waste if they were to wander away and fall off the balcony or flush themselves down the garbage disposal.” He goes on to draw an analogy between the way we think of our offspring and the way we think of our ideas and inventions, and this is why we get upset at what we see as the theft of our intellectual property (or, I would add, the failure of our ideas). What if we used a different reproductive strategy as our model, he asks? The dandelion produces 200 seeds a year, “indiscriminately firing them off into the sky at the slightest breeze, without any care for where the seeds are heading and whether they’ll get a hospitable reception when they touch down…the important thing is that every spring, every crack in every pavement is filled with dandelions.”
We should see our ideas in the same vein, Godin says. Spray the world with them and be prepared for some to land on cold, hard, unyielding pavement and fail. Be ready to nurture the ones that take root. It’s an inspiring way of looking at the process of innovation. I can’t help but think of my brother, who constantly comes up with new ideas. Sometimes my family says, “there he goes again” because we know he won’t follow most of his ideas to fruition. And he hasn’t had the big million dollar idea yet. But Godin would say that he’s got the right attitude and will probably get there some day, because he doesn’t let failure get him down. He just goes on to the next idea.