tensionInnovation is a nauseatingly overused term in business these days.

Just about every company is setting up some form of  ‘innovation department’ or at least trying to figure out how they too can get on the ‘disruption bandwagon’ after reading a few alarming articles about ‘this disruption thing’ in the Harvard Business Review.

But here’s something we know for sure; almost every single one of these attempts to create something ‘new and innovative’ which ‘changes the world’ is guaranteed to fail dismally.

Tons of money will be spent and an alarming amount of time will be wasted, but the efforts will certainly come to naught.

No matter how many Steve Jobs, Clayton Christensen and Elon Musk books are read and distributed to the employees of the business – the results of these efforts are guaranteed to fall way short of expectations.


Well, in our experience there’s usually a key reason for this.

That reason; a lack of tension.


See the actual process of innovation is extremely tough.

It takes a lot of applied brain power to explore innovative solutions.

It requires an enormous amount of unbiased and genuinely passionate curiosity to splice together seemingly disconnected ideas to create something new.

Rapid prototyping is a painstakingly frustrating process that requires a genuine love of loud heavy metal music, copious amounts of alcohol and profanity to accomplish (believe me we have done enough of it).

Results are never a sure thing, and it takes a thick skin to deal with failure and to intuitively know which existing levers to test for better progress. And these psychologically draining activities need a huge reservoir of fuel to make them happen and keep them going. That fuel is tension – and salaried employees and the companies they draw a salary from are severely short of it.

You need tension between the state that you are in and the state that you imagine you would rather be in.


If you find yourself in poverty and wish for a better life for you and your children – that’s the tension which is going to fuel your desire to find a solution for your problems.

If your ability to pay your bills at the end of the month requires you to come up with something quickly which is going to save you from a bookkeeper screaming at you and threatening you with legal action, that is the tension that’s needed to fuel a money making innovation to save the day.

If the frustration with the way big business is conducted by people who cannot see a better way of solving problems boils over inside you and inspires you to find a better, cheaper, more efficient way of servicing a need – that’s the tension which keeps you up at night and mentally positive through all of the certain setbacks that you will encounter.

Without a clear and present danger and the foreboding threat of your personal demise, there just isn’t the tension that will drive the difficult process of imagining and pursuing creative ideas of innovation.

For that one reason, it’s no surprise that almost every corporate company in the world is worried about disrupters coming in and stealing large chunks of their market share, but the solution is certainly not trying to all of a sudden change the internal culture of the company from an operational model, built on dated, linear thinking, into an innovative one.

Trying to convince a comfortable, salaried employees that there is danger up ahead and they need to suddenly be innovative without a clear and present danger of extreme personal trauma to themselves; is the same as trying to get a warm, sleepy dog away from a glowing fireplace to go for a walk in the pouring rain.

We have a favourite saying at the Cherryflava HQ – ‘A revolution will never emerge from the Steenberg Golf Estate’. [For readers who are not aware of the Steenberg Golf Estate – it is a plush, upmarket security estate where Cape Town’s wealthy elite live and sip cocktails at nine in the morning.]

In a similar way – if the mindset and culture in an organisation in any way resembles the comfort and convenience of the Steenberg Golf Estate – your dreams of innovation, or of pushing the organisation into new, uncharted territories – are pretty much screwed.

Tension is the fuel that you need to chase dreams.  Without it, you may as well just carry on with whatever it is that doesn’t upset the apple cart. And in a world of rapid change, it’s just a matter of time before your greatest fears come knocking on your very expensive front door.

Related post: Enslaved by luxury – Cherryflava