The Seven Deadly Innovation Blunders

Richard W. DeVaul
12 min readMay 21, 2019

This essay is part of the “Managing Innovation” essay series that starts with “Innovation isn’t what you think it is.” A previous version of this essay was published with the title “The Seven Perils of Innovation.”

introduction

I’m no stranger to success and failure. I’ve turned a crazy idea and a scrappy team into billions of dollars in enterprise value at Google [X]. As a startup CEO I had to look my friends in the eye as I laid them off because I couldn’t close the financing. I’ve had titles that include CEO, CTO, and Engineering Director. I know what its like to win and I’ve watched others — and myself— blow it when it really counted. And along the way I’ve learned some important lessons about what works and what doesn’t in the innovation game.

You might think there are a million ways to screw things up, and only a few formulas for success. In my experience, it’s actually the opposite. In the world of innovation, there are many ways to be successful, but failures have strikingly common themes. And I’ve seen them over and over.

In this piece I’ll lay out seven deadly innovation blunders that you must avoid on the road to successful innovation; It doesn’t matter whether you are an entrepreneur, an early-stage investor, or an innovation leader inside a larger company, these pitfalls are present at nearly every scale and stage of the innovation process.

mindset blunders

Mindset blunders are the most important and dangerous type of blunder. Why? Because mindset blunders are the result of our assumptions and beliefs, which few of us question even in the face of countervailing evidence. This tendency is called confirmation bias, a powerful human tendency to reinterpret evidence to support our underlying belief, rather than vice versa.

classic mindset blunders

Here are three of the most important mindset blunders you must avoid in pursuing successful innovation:

failure averse droid is failure averse (and not very useful)

1: Failure is not an option (actually, it’s a requirement)

Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.

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Richard W. DeVaul

Founder, mad scientist, moonshot launcher. Writes on innovation, entrepreneurship, and social/queer issues. ex-CTO of Google X. @rdevaul on twitter