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Unprepared to innovate

“Be prepared,” says the Boy Scout motto.

At least, I think it does. I didn’t actually look it up.

The advice is sound. Being prepared, doing your homework can help you succeed or at the very least, help you avoid paths to failure that others have previously face-planted. Before you undertake a huge expenditure of time and/or money, it is good to know what you’re doing. Before proposing marriage or any other form of partnership, it is good to understand the implications and responsibilities.

But being prepared can also be counterproductive. Preparation can be a ploy for procrastination.

“I will be ready to start once I have done a bit more research.”

I’ve seen it in writers who want just a bit more world-building before they start a story. I’ve personally done it for science writing projects that intimidated me, and in my personal life, refusing to start things because I never felt like I knew enough going in.

Preparation can also keep you from doing anything innovative or from seeing things in a new way. If I know how things work, what methods or ideas have been tested in the past, I may limit my contributions to a brainstorming or creative session.

I’m more apt to contribute ideas that are merely incremental improvements or variations on what has come previously. I am more likely to reject ideas contributed by others because “That won’t work” or “We tried that”, rather than see the possibilities or evolve the other person’s idea. I am likely to be very conservative in my thinking.

The greatest achievement from my days as a biochemist was accomplishing a task in a few days that was supposed to take months, according to the scientific literature. But here’s the thing. I didn’t read the scientific literature before attempting the task.

Instead, I focused on my own experiences and intuition. I just did what seemed right. (In a sense, my whole career up to that point was my preparation.)

So unexpected was my achievement that several researchers in my community refused to believe me or my results… until I reproduced them several times. (In fairness, the nature of the scientific beast.)

It’s not that the scientists who came before me were wrong or did the experiments wrong. I just approached the challenge slightly differently, and that small change made all the difference in the final outcome.

Had I read the literature ahead of time—had I prepared—I too would have hit the same delays that they did. But I didn’t, so I didn’t.

All this to say “Damn, I am a genius!”

No, sorry. No.

All this to say being prepared isn’t the be all and end all. Sometimes, you just have to step off the cliff and see what happens, relying on your instincts and experience to save the day and/or your life.

Sure, you may fail. (Remember? You suck.) You may even fail spectacularly.

But you may also discover something remarkable, something no one has ever considered before, something that changes the world, or at least your small corner of it.

Be prepared, in fact, to be amazed.

If you’re unprepared to dig further into jumping off metaphorical (we promise) cliffs, reach out to the Nicholas Lemon Productions team of hyper-vigilant planners and irrepressible jumpers.

PS I checked with Google & indeed, the Scout motto is “Be prepared.” Another cliff jump survived.

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