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Iterating Innovation

Mark Mzyk | March 8, 2009

The dirty little secret – the fact often denied – is that unlike the mythical epiphany, real creation is sloppy.  Discovery is messy; exploration is dangerous.  No one knows what he’s going to get when he’s being creative.  Filmmakers, painters, inventors, and entrepreneurs describe their work as a search: they explore the unknown hoping to find new things worth bringing to the world.  And just like other kinds of explorers, the search for ideas demands risk: much of what’s found won’t be satisfactory.

Scott Berkun, from The Myths of Innovation: Chapter 6; Good ideas are hard to find, p. 86

The quote above is why I advocate agile practices.  For me, it’s the number one reason to use agile: you can be messy.  You can explore and see what you discover, because you know that if it’s good, you’ll come back to it and refine it, and if it isn’t, you can throw it away with little time lost.

You can work with the knowledge that if you build up some technical debt, it’s okay; you’ll pay it off in the next iteration, before it becomes so large it bankrupts you.

Being agile enables risk, because the time blocks are small enough that there is time to recover.  And by extension, enabling risk helps to enable innovation.

Simply being agile isn’t going to cause you to suddenly be an innovation machine.  There’s a lot more to it than that, as Scott’s book points out, but being agile is a good start down the right path.