Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The critical kairos

Wired has a great article on Corning, makers of Gorilla Glass -- the remarkably strong glass that famously forms the screen on iPhones and iPads (as well as products from a number of other companies). The entire article is a great read and well worth your time, but I took special pleasure in this line, toward the middle of the article:
Innovation at Corning is largely about being willing and able to take failed ideas and apply them elsewhere.
This is a great point that often gets overlooked in discussions of innovation. Back in the day I studied classical Greek, and one of my favorite words from that language is kairos, which refers to the right time for something. In my experience kairos is critical to the success of an idea -- it's not enough for it to be a good idea, and it's not enough for it to receive the necessary backing, it also needs the elusive element of kairos (a.k.a. good timing) or it won't have the impact that it deserves.

Functionally, of course, this can seem like a difficult requirement to satisfy, because you can work to make your ideas better but, unless you're Dr. Who, you have no control over time. The bottom-line lesson, though, is that you should keep failed ideas in your back pocket. When you put something out there and it fails, either it was a bad idea or it was a good idea at the wrong time. Put the good but failed ideas to the side, out of sight where they're safe, until the circumstances have changed and it's time to try again.

Sometimes innovation is a function of memory. Remember your failures, because tomorrow they might be the seeds of your success.