Yes, Innovation Is Supposed to Be Uncomfortable

April 14, 2022

Filed Under: Big Ideas & Innovation, creativity, innovation

By Jim Bailey

Photo Credit: Twomeows_IS/Getty Images

Few things in our personal lives feel safer than routines. Morning coffee, walking the dog, and lately–trying to crack the code on the daily Wordle—all give us a sense of stability and structure. Routines are healthy, predictable, and comfortable.

In business, not much has been comfortable over the past two years. It wasn’t comfortable for the restaurant industry to rapidly shift to online ordering and curbside pickup. Airlines and cruise lines rethinking the entire traveler experience wasn’t comfortable, either. But what happened as a result, in these industries and in many others, were newly-forged paths, broken barriers, accelerated timelines, and groundbreaking discoveries. Innovation happened.

Innovation is supposed to be uncomfortable.

In today’s business world, routines are heading toward extinction. Change is constant, evolution is continuous, and companies need to be adaptable to ensure future success. Hesitate, and you might see your competitors speed by before you have long enough to blink.

Here’s how companies can embrace this mindset to stay at the forefront of innovation:   


Behavior patterns have changed, and companies can’t sit still—they must respond accordingly. Two thirds of organizations surveyed in 2021 said their strategy would change significantly in the next three years as they adapt to the pandemic, and other unforeseen disruptions could make that flexibility even more essential. Supply chain constraints are one example–with just 28% of retailers believing theirs is agile enough to support the organization’s evolving business needs.

But with more consumer data available now than ever before due to the recent wave of online usage by consumers, retailers have innovated their approach. Using predictive capabilities and optimization to sort inventory and forecast demand, the retail industry is ensuring customers’ new buying behaviors are being met with accurate responses in real-time—both in stores and online. Retailers that have taken an adaptable, flexible approach to customer service and experience delivery are far ahead of those that are staying put as the world changes around them.  


In the musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton explains the challenges he is facing passing his financial plan through Congress. George Washington responds, saying: “Winning was easy, young man. Governing’s harder.”

A business comfortable in its routine is often change-averse. This fear of failure is one of the biggest barriers to innovation, and one that organizations must overcome to avoid the risk of falling behind. Leaders championing the innovation path are taking the bold step to shake up the status quo, and to earn buy-in and support from the rest of the leadership team, they must find common, relatable ground. It’s not often an easy sell when things are currently going well, but historically, there are proven examples of when taking a leap forward led to both short-term growth and long-term market leadership. 


Innovation can often seem like the opposite of resiliency, which is another reason why it often feels uncomfortable. But the reality is, doing more of the same leads to lost industry relevance, evaporating any resilience equity the business may have had previously. Flexibility in response to emerging market conditions, and the confidence to differentiate through original concepts and ideas, can position organizations to be more resilient when the trend eventually leads the rest of the market to catch up. While others scramble, the resiliency goes to leaders who were out front from the start. 

Businesses face enormous pressure to drive growth, develop talent, reduce emissions, and advance technology. None of this can happen when companies are stationary. Routines are calm, but organizations should never stand still for long. While the coffee order and dog walk can always stay the same, the bold leaders who keep moving their companies forward through uncomfortable innovation will feel their own form of tranquility. 

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