A former work colleague of mine used to say, perhaps a little too often, that “Everyone’s got a price.” Though it’s been years since I last worked with him, I find myself reminded of that every so often.
What I came to learn, though, is not that everyone has a price, but everything – doesn’t matter what it is, everyone and everything has their price, that will be paid in the end.
And so it is with innovation. I’ve come to realise that even innovation has a price that must be paid, that for every single thing I examine and try and improve upon, a price comes for that view.
It’s almost sad in a way that it’s the case, that looking to take something and make it better comes with a cost, but that’s life, I guess.
The price of innovation is restlessness, of being unsettled – and even of being a perfectionist. That’s the price I find myself paying for innovation, but as will become clear, that’s often worth paying, and it’s just the main – not the only – cost.
I find myself restless a lot. I can’t settle, unless I’m working on something – I’ve been described as a workaholic in the past, for example. Even something like watching television can be a struggle at times due to its passive nature – I’m not interacting with it, I’m not making something happen.
I’m always subconsciously looking at how to improve things, and it’s a burden at times, because you get to the point where you can’t ever just accept that something is what it is, and that it’s satisfactory being what it is. Hence, the point about being a perfectionist – that’s the ‘vibe’ of innovation taken to its extreme, where you take the view that it must be perfect before you’re happy with it, that continual tweaks, gouges, polishes and buffs are necessary to keep innovating.
It can get to the point where tunnel vision sets in, where micro-innovations creep in, such that you spend more time/energy/resources trying to innovate than any benefit you’d ever get back from it.
That’s one of the hardest things I found about my position as a self-declared innovator – knowing when to stop paying the price of innovation. I’m happy to put up with the restlessness and the unsettled feelings, because these fade away when working at innovation, and of course the good feeling of completing something innovative pushes the jaded feelings back. But micro-innovation and its cousin micro-optimisation often drag you down into a rut from which it is hard to escape: the price becomes too much.
In the projects I’m involved with currently, I’ve been watching some cases of micro-optimisation, where hours have been spent in rooting out very minor performance changes, minor changes that ultimately made a difference of a staggeringly small magnitude. The same time could have been spent reviewing much bigger issues in workflow, and achieved much greater savings than would ever be recovered from even many micro-optimisations; in short, I actually believe the person involved is buried too deeply in tunnel vision, and ignoring the bigger picture – I guess for them, the price is worth paying.