Yoda’s Best Advice for Innovation

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Yoda’s famous advice is absolute. Yoda doesn’t leave much room for failure. But what Yoda is really talking about is commitment. Innovation happens only when we put all our effort into it, which is something demonstrated throughout the history of innovation.

Do It Again, And Again, Until It’s Done Right

There’s no better example of commitment to innovation than Thomas Edison. Edison famously approached innovation through trial and error. He and his staff went through thousands of prototypes of the lightbulb, sending agents across the world looking for new filaments, new materials, and new ideas. Edison’s approach, however, wasn’t scattershot. Much like Galileo observing the pendulum, or Thomas Watson insisting on a clear, logical thought process applied to any innovation before his employees hit the lab, Edison observed the work going on with incandescent lighting, often reviewing the literature available on the topic, thought about their approaches, and went from there.

Edison wanted to build not just a lightbulb, remember, but everything that drove the system, from the fixture the lightbulb screwed into to the generator that forced the energy through the filament and created the light. He never got the full system entirely right, and the approach had its flaws. The famous “current war,” where Edison’s direct current system (DC) went up against Tesla’s alternating current system (AC), cost both men substantially, for example.

Trial and error was always the last resort, but the key lesson here is that Edison never gave up. Much of Edison’s greatest innovations, like the carbon microphone, which laid the basis for the telephone and much of modern sound, were built on fringe theories, not generally accepted science. It often came down to Edison and his team, who proved the science, to move what they discovered into the realm of the known.

Commitment In Innovation

In the above address, where John Kennedy announces NASA will put a man on the moon, pay close attention to Kennedy’s language. He never claims we’ll “try” to put a man on the moon. Instead, he treats going to the moon as a foregone conclusion. In 1961, it wasn’t clear that this was possible. While getting into orbit was possible, traveling to a celestial body, even one as “close” as the Moon, was a vast jump forward in both theory and execution. It would take incredible commitment and extensive scientific testing. Many assumed at the time, the feat was decades away, if it was even possible.

By July 1969, a man was on the moon. What was theoretical had become not only possible but accepted. That we could travel to another part of the galaxy was now a part of accepted science. This is how it is with innovation. It takes incredible effort and often involves pushing beyond the bounds of what’s accepted as possible.

Once you determine to innovate, there aren’t half measures. No matter how hard you have to work, no matter what it takes, you need to be ready to work on your innovation until you break through. After all, there is no “try” in innovation. There is only “do.” If you’re ready to innovate, join our newsletter.

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