I was recently describing a scenario to friends of mine about how I had tried to undertake something a few years ago that I wanted very much, but for which I found out I was completely unprepared. I remarked that, at the time, I was about as prepared for my undertaking as I was to fly a space shuttle, which they found very amusing. But it was true.
Wanting and doing are very different—and when we get too far ahead in wanting without having prepared for the actual doing, the results can be disastrous. Research shows that we need some level of category or industry expertise if we want to innovate, and getting to that level of proficiency requires some effort.
I was reminded of the importance of preparation and concentration while reading a great interview that Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, recently gave on maintaining the culture of the organization. Talking about what he learned from Steve Jobs, Cook said: “I learned that focus is key, not just in running a company, but in your personal life. You can only do so many things great, and you should cast aside everything else.” To that I’ll add that focusing on getting yourself or your company prepared for whatever it is you want to do is critical to not only the innovation process, but to anything at all.
Another piece of good advice from Jobs to Cook was to not focus on the past. That’s critical when it comes to the innovation process. In Cook’s words: “If you’ve done something great or terrible, forget it and go on and create the next thing.” I’ll add: Make sure you realize the lesson and use it going forward. Don’t dwell on it, or as Cook phrases, “forget it,” but put it to work.
Learn from the bad and leverage the good.