Fernando Fischmann

Failing To Innovate? The Opportunities You Don’t Know You’re Stifling

8 June, 2018 / Articles

Peter Drucker, whom many regarded as the father of modern business, said that all business boils down to two things: marketing and innovation. Businesses that fail to innovate fail to thrive and, eventually, fail to exist. At best, they become obsolete. Think Blockbuster, Polaroid, Blackberry and Yahoo, to name a few.


Even at an individual level, innovation, which is simply a new idea put into action, is critical for growth and fulfillment. The mentality that got you to your current level of success will not get you to the next level. And yet, you may be inadvertently squashing the seeds of growth by failing to recognize the telltale signs in human behavior (yours or someone else’s) that indicate an innovation may be ready to hatch.


Psychologist Bruce Tuckman coined the phrase (paywall) “forming, storming, norming, performing” to describe a team’s path to high-performance. Individuals also have their own four-step sequence as they move from “flailing” to “flow,” the zone of peak productivity. Learning to identify, understand and appreciate the gifts of these stages can lead to miraculous openings for innovation.



Let’s use an example where a new project manager has stepped in to lead a small team in a new business endeavor. In this example, we’ll look at these four stages from both sides of the fence, where you are both one of the people on the team and also the project manager who needs to successfully oversee the team.




Confusion is defined as:


  1. lack of understanding; uncertainty


  1. the state of being bewildered or unclear in one’s mind about something


In the beginning of any new undertaking or transition, there is often a sense of confusion. If you are the team member, you may feel that you’re not thinking clearly. You may feel anxious or act impulsively. Most people don’t enjoy the feeling of confusion and tend to resist, reject or push it away through their patterned response to uncertainty.


If you are the team manager, you may believe the most efficient and productive path forward involves immediately jumping in to unravel the confusion. You may believe that confusion is the anathema to productivity.


While you don’t want you or your team to become incapacitated by confusion, you also don’t want to rush in and push it away or fix it.


As animals, it is our mind’s biological imperative to find its own way out of any labyrinth. It will search its internal landscape until it finds a new perspective or process that it hasn’t discovered or used in this particular way before, and it will create a new door to clarity.


So, the gift of confusion is a breakthrough. All innovation begins with a breakthrough.




Frustration is defined as:


  1. the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something


Once confusion yields to clarity, frustration can appear. If you are the team member, you may feel frustrated about the new manager’s way of doing things. You may think you’re going backward instead of forward or not progressing as quickly as you would like. Unless you recognize the jewel of frustration, it can quickly spiral to judgment, criticism, anger or resentment, by which point the gift is buried under a heap of unproductive emotions that directly impact your ability to tap into your genius.


As the manager, you may believe frustration is an early indicator of mutiny. You may believe that mitigating or appeasing the frustrated individual is the fastest path to performance. You may take action to remove the source of frustration for the sake of productivity. However, intercepting frustration with well-intentioned but premature action deprives both the individual and the team of its gift.


The gift of frustration is knowledge. Knowledge expands range. Expanded range equates to expanded perspective. Innovation often comes on the heels of a new perspective.




Focus is defined as:


  1. the center of interest or activity


  1. the state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition


In every moment, you are making three decisions: (1) what to focus on, (2) what meaning to give it and (3) what to do about it. Change the focus and you change your life. The ripple effect that extends out from that first decision will put you on a completely different trajectory, depending on your focus.


The difference between welcoming and embracing confusion and frustration and knocking it on its head is ultimately the difference in where you focus. It is, therefore, the difference between stagnation and innovation.


As the saying goes, “energy flows where focus goes.” And whatever you focus on grows. Squashing confusion and frustration the moment they rear their disruptive little heads will drastically limit your vison and, therefore, your ultimate results. On the other hand, receiving the gifts of confusion and frustration will ultimately leapfrog you into a new level of success beyond your current scope.




In positive psychology, flow is “the mental state of operation in which [a] person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”


Unlike the first three stages, flow is not an inevitable phase in either life or business. While you don’t need flow to be a high performer, you do need flow if you want to move from the zone of excellence to the zone of genius, where you begin to tap into the pure potentiality of an individual or business. Peak productivity requires flow.


There’s a difference between the flow that arrives despite kneecapping the ringbearers of confusion and frustration and the flow that is created from the “messy” gifts of breakthrough and knowledge. It is the difference between the scarce trickle of a drippy faucet and the abundant surge of a prolific waterfall.


Although it may seem counterintuitive, learning how to lean into confusion and frustration instead of resisting it will enable you to expand your vision and accelerate your ability to innovate in ways completely beyond your imagination. Your next level of genius, and that of your business, may be just one breakthrough away.


The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.



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