The Uses of Discomfort


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In my last post I talked about how success at a certain business model tends to create an organization that’s invested in that business model. When it’s time to more forward, the organization rebels and sucks you under. Think of GM producing cars for a vast local market that was shrinking as imports went from an exotic choice to a commonsense one. GM was such an attractive edifice, no one was willing to tear it up to make it work in a new market. So the market tore it up instead.

Which raises the question: how and when do you innovate in order to prevent being swallowed in the mire?

It’s probably too late to do disruptive innovation when your business model becomes threatened – the time to do it is before your business model becomes too stable.

Google is a great example – from search to ads, to cloud to mobile, it keeps disrupting itself, and stays footloose.

Another example is Netflix. When they started, they could have been MailFlix – after all, they delivered all their goods by mail. But they knew that they were entering a Net-based world, and tying their fate to the postal system was not the way to go. They chose the unsettled, ever-changing idea of the Net.

Sure it’s uncomfortable working without a firm underpinning of stability. That’s why we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

That’s not as unnatural as it seems. Yes, we all desire comfort and security, but we also have the need to be creative. Discomfort can be very energizing for the creative process. Look at Intel, a huge company that can only survive by innovating at a ruthless pace. Intel is constantly working to make their own technology irrelevant. Their former CEO, Andy Grove, called it constructive paranoia.

And paranoia means never having to say you’re comfortable.


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