Can Innovation Be Just Too Darn Fast?

President of NostaLab, John Nosta explains why behind innovation lurks hypermetathesiophobia.

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Article previously posted on Psychology Today. 

Today’s world is defined by change. Advances in technology, consumer empowerment, and instant gratification are just some of the moving parts of life that are pushing us to a new reality. But a 2017 survey in Fortune suggests that part of the roller coaster ride of innovation—the speed of technological change—is the highest rated concern. The other top concerns included cybersecurity, regulations and sourcing talent. Change, at the speed of life, is the rallying cry of business. But there might be a bit more to the story.

Think about that for a moment—a rapid moment. Of all the concerns that deluge top CEOs, the speed of technology change is on the top of the list. Now, take a breath and think about that for a moment. One of the most common commands barked by senior management—”I WANT IT NOW”—may actually reflect one of their biggest fears!

These days, we all hear terms like “pivot” and “fail fast” as part of the business lexicon. However, this survey seems to indicate that “fast might” just might yield a greater level of concern in the context of growth and innovation. That old linear rate of growth provides an expected and comfortable path to success. But today, exponential change shifts the line to an uncomfortable “slope of concern” that strikes both amazement and fear in the boardroom.

The fear of change even has a name: metathesiophobia. The origin of the word “meta”  is change and phobos means fear. But I think that we need to expand the term and create some new. I suggest hypermetathesiophobia: the fear of rapid change.

Today, innovation requires a shift from the status quo—a push or disruption from the comfort of predictability. That’s tolerable to most. But the roller coaster of innovation offers up a velocity that might result in a “knee-jerk” stomp on the breaks. And that’s not innovation, it’s just fear.

The rate of innovation over can be expressed as dINNOVATION/dt, (dI/dt) or the first derivative of innovation. The instantaneous change (or slope) at any given point on the innovation curve can help define “white knuckle” changes that might disrupt the process itself.

Rapid change (a high dI/dt) is what many in businesses seek. But the reality is that the rate of change must be a function of both person and process. Driving innovation, but pushing people out of their comfort zone (from entry level to CEO) can result in the disruption of a goal intended to be a disruption itself. And pushing methodological systems faster than established functionality and validation can result in a similar catastrophe.

The simple reality is that change is complex. Some are uncontrolled and driven by unseen and unplanned market forces. Yet others are well within our control. The instillation of innovation must be modulated to address existing “fear” factors and let all the stakeholders enjoy the inevitable ride.

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