Is Innovation Unreasonable?

by Jeffrey Phillips


Thank goodness for Twitter. What would we do without this constantly refreshing stream of bromides, insights, accusations and occasional bursts of wisdom? Just yesterday while perusing the Twitter stream I saw a quote attributed to Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive that made me want to sit up and scream. The quote was relatively straightforward and seems innocuous on its face…

“To do something innovative means you reject reason.”

Sounds about right, doesn’t it?  Innovation means that you are creating something new and potentially disruptive, and that means that you may have to go against “reason”.  As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of George Bernard Shaw, who said that all progress is due to unreasonable” men and women. But do we have to reject reason in order to innovate?  I don’t think so – in fact I think we have to embrace reason, knowledge and insight in order to innovate.

Reason or Convention

What I think gets confused here is the idea of fighting “convention” and somehow that becomes conflated with reason.  When we innovate we are often changing the status quo, and there are plenty of people with reasons to protect and sustain the status quo, who can give you plenty of..wait for it.. reasons why you shouldn’t disrupt or change the status quo.  Convention is powerful, and if the quote had said, “To do something innovative means you reject convention” I would have said: Amen.

However, we cannot reject reason when we innovate, in fact we must rely on insight, intelligence, research and reason when we innovate.  That’s because the only way to encourage people to commit to new ideas is to demonstrate new insights, new needs or new experiences, which are all based on research, insights into unsolved problems or challenges or new technologies. This all appeals to reason – why would I choose an uncertain unknown over a predictable certainty? Only if the unknown is promising, compelling and valuable.  And how would I communicate those benefits?  By appealing to your reason, and overcoming your fear of rejecting convention.

Innovators/Artists/Creatives

So, it might be rightly said that innovators, artists, creatives and others of a similar ilk are unconventional, even unreasonable in their pursuit of new ideas, but not that they lack or reject reason. Shaw suggests that only people who are willing to bend the world to their viewpoint, who don’t accept the status quo, create change and progress. Only those who use insight, research, intelligence and sometimes their gut see what’s coming and apply their reason to overcome conventions and objections to create a new reality.

I didn’t have the opportunity to work with Jobs – Jonathan Ive did – but I’d think Jobs was often unreasonable in his pursuits of innovation and rejected convention, but his insights called on his reason and his intellect. And Jobs was simply better at spotting emerging needs and markets than others were – this isn’t a rejection of reason, it is a validation of reason and a rejection of convention.

image credit: michaeloneill.com

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Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes, and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of Relentless Innovation and the blog Innovate on Purpose. Follow him @ovoinnovation

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