Why Exponential Innovation Is the Key to Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Bold" by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is exponential innovation? Why should every entrepreneur become an exponential innovator?

Technology has caused products and industries to develop at an exponential rate, making old ways of innovating and competing obsolete. To achieve and maintain success today, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s book Bold argues that entrepreneurs must adjust their mindset and embrace exponential innovation.

Keep reading to learn how to succeed in the digital era.

Become an Exponential Innovator

To achieve and maintain success in the digital era, the authors argue that entrepreneurs must embrace exponential innovation—this means adopting a ceaseless commitment to creating daring and novel ideas, products, or services that change the world in some way. (The authors refer to this as having a “bold mindset.”) 

Becoming an exponential innovator is important because, in the age of the internet, innovations are never safe from competition. Once an idea or product is made available online, it develops at an exponential rate because anyone anywhere can instantaneously access and share it. This means that someone will inevitably use your idea to create something better. The only way to avoid this inevitability is to ceaselessly innovate and outperform yourself before someone else does—to become an exponential innovator.

There are two main components that make exponential innovators successful and that you must adopt to become one—psychological strengths and innovators’ habits. Psychological strengths are the mental abilities that give you the confidence and motivation necessary to pursue daring ideas. Innovators’ habits are the strategies and techniques you rely on to develop daring ideas and bring them to fruition.

Psychological Strengths

According to the authors, to become an exponential innovator, you must first develop psychological strengths that will allow you to handle the high-stress commitment to innovation and exponential growth. These strengths will also allow you to successfully perform innovators’ habits. This section will explore each of these strengths and how you can maintain them.

Strength #1: Think Unconventionally and Autonomously 

The authors explain that to create something truly novel that effects major change in the world, an innovator needs to think unconventionally—beyond the limits of what’s currently possible. Further, unconventional thinking requires the ability to think autonomously—without being fazed by the doubts and restraints of society. For example, wireless technology wouldn’t exist if innovators listened to the public opinion that it was simply a science fiction fantasy. Instead, innovators ignored societal doubts and changed the world.

Strength #2: Be Comfortable With Risks and Failure 

Most people are afraid of taking risks because doing so introduces the potential for failure and loss. However, the authors explain that repeated risk-taking and failure are keys to successful innovation—you might have to try 20 different ideas before you find the one that works best. 

Strength #3: Know Your Purpose

The authors explain that the most successful innovators all have one thing in common: an underlying purpose that shapes their values and drives their innovations. Having a purpose that you’re passionate about provides you with motivation in uncertain times and the confidence needed to take big risks. 

Maintain Psychological Strengths With Inspiring Facts and Principles

The authors propose that you can maintain these psychological strengths by creating a list of inspiring facts and principles about innovation. When tough circumstances make you doubt yourself, you can revisit this list to rekindle your innovator’s mindset and remind yourself of the strengths needed to succeed. 

For example, recording a fact such as “turning a tree into a table must have seemed impossible until someone made it happen” can remind you of the importance of Strength #1—something that seems impossible can be accomplished through unconventional and autonomous thinking.

Innovators’ Habits

In addition to describing psychological strengths, Diamandis and Kotler present a number of strategies that exponential innovators rely on to come up with ideas, products, and services that change the world. Their recommendations can be condensed into four main habits, which we’ll explore below.

Habit #1: Back Your Innovations With Far-Reaching and Purpose-Driven Goals

First, the authors recommend backing your innovations with far-reaching and purpose-driven goals. A far-reaching goal is so big that it seems nearly impossible to the average person. Creating far-reaching goals will hinge on Strength #1: the ability to think unconventionally and autonomously. A purpose-driven goal aligns with your values and aims to accomplish something higher than its basic purpose. Creating purpose-driven goals will hinge on Strength #3: knowing your purpose. 

For example, imagine that your innovation is a service that connects people who want to care for animals to animals in need. The far-reaching and purpose-driven goal inspiring that innovation might be to reduce the number of homeless, malnourished, abused, and injured animals in the world. This is an extremely ambitious goal that has a higher purpose of making the world a better, more humane place.

Backing your innovations with far-reaching and purpose-driven goals is crucial because these innovations are the most impactful—the kind that change the world in some way.

Habit #2: Create Micro-Goals That Build Your Credibility

The authors recommend breaking down your end goal of having a successful, world-changing innovation into micro-goals: smaller achievements intended to pave your way toward success by building credibility. 

Having high credibility is crucial to success because it makes outside stakeholders, like customers and critics, see your innovation as likely to succeed. And once your innovation goes public, these stakeholders are the ones who’ll determine your success—they’ll either endorse your product, leading to success, or they’ll be unimpressed and you’ll fade into the background.

To help identify your micro-goals, consider the steps necessary to complete your innovation and gain credibility in the industry: Are there any skills or abilities you must demonstrate to the public? Any important contacts or supporters you should acquire?

For example, if your end goal is to establish an online platform that connects people who want to care for animals to animals in need, a few of your micro-goals might be: 

  1. Hold a conference to discuss animal welfare and invite people and organizations dedicated to the cause, such as veterinarians, animal shelters, welfare societies, farms, and pet foster parents.
  2. Raise $1,000 every month to donate to animal welfare societies.
  3. Create a user-friendly website where members can sign up to either adopt an animal or advertise for an animal in need.

Ultimately, your micro-goals will build a track record that shows the public that you’re credible—you know what you’re doing, you’ve succeeded in the past, and you have other credible people supporting you.

Habit #3: Work in a Controlled Environment 

The authors explain that the best innovations occur in environments that are closed from the outside world and only allow access to a select few who share your innovator’s mindset. This is because these environments encourage unconventional, autonomous thinking and risk-taking—as we’ve noted, two psychological strengths necessary for innovation. On the other hand, exposure to the predictability and doubts of wider society hinders these strengths.

Habit #4: Experiment Constantly

Finally, exponential innovators must put their psychological strength of being comfortable with risk-taking and failure into action by constantly experimenting. As previously discussed, the authors note that you must repeatedly experiment and fail before you can find a strategy or idea that works. The more experiments you conduct, and the more frequently you conduct them, the faster you’ll determine what works and the more progress you’ll make toward your goal. 

Why Exponential Innovation Is the Key to Success

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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