Deep Thoughts - Innovation and Success - Perseverance vs. Futility

  Hort Snacks - June 2017
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 In recent conversations and while listening to a motivational speaker, I noticed a common theme; successful figures and what they had created or accomplished. One example involved the person that created Velcro®, which came about after finding burs in his dog’s fur. Another example was the men who created Post-It® Notes, combining one man’s desire for reusable page markers with another’s work on glue. There are many examples in the world of visionary and/or creative people that have taken an idea, developed it and then ran with it, to great success. We celebrate those success stories. In my years of working with producers of all types, I’ve continually been impressed by the ingenuity and innovation of the people I’ve come across.

In photography, you can change how something looks by shifting the contrasts (or the tones) of the image. By creating stark contrasts, you sharpen the lines and can see certain things clearer than when things are presented in shades. In life (you pick the area), when you make a study of contrasts, you can sometimes gain interesting perspectives and insights.

Shift the contrast and consider the previous examples. If we look at them solely as successful ventures, we perhaps fail to recognize the challenges that were overcome, the failed experiments, or even the luck (if you believe in it) that was necessary prior to success. It took 10 years to create Velcro®. The Post-It® Notes success hinged on the fact that the glue was a weak adhesive, as opposed to the desired outcome, a super-adhesive.

You might, at this point, be wondering what the point of this article is, compared to the title of it. While innovation and success can, and are, great goals, consider the subtle contrasts between the personality traits that drive, or are associated with, innovation.

Perseverance is defined as:

  • Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success
  • Continuing in a course of action without regard to discouragement, opposition or previous failure
  • Persistent determination to adhere to a plan of direction
Perseverance is a quality that you’d probably agree is useful in driving towards innovation and success. However, consider other words that are synonyms for perseverance: persistence, tenacity, pertinacity, insistence, constancy, endurance, obstinacy, stubbornness. I’d postulate that as you go from the front of the list to the end of it, you’re seeing a shift in contrast.

Perseverance is considered admirable and desirable. Stubbornness is perhaps less desirable. But it is a subtle difference. Apply this to a quest for innovation or even to something as simple as a production practice, marketing idea, etc. on your farm operation. In plain and simple terms, we might work hard to achieve success in an area or to bring a great idea to fruition, pushing past the obstacles, the brief challenges and the little hiccups that typically occur. But at what point does perseverance become stubbornness and then slip into futility? At what point should you abandon what was beautiful in concept, but not worth it in practice (even if only temporarily)? It takes a shift to see things in stark, crisp contrast and be able to either adjust or walk away.

Thomas Edison, the famous inventor on the 19th century, offers some interesting perspective on where you might draw the line. Edison is recorded as having said “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up” (1877) and is attributed as having said something along the lines of ““I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Granted, he succeeded. And maybe over 100 years ago, it was easier to push forward to innovation, despite many failures, whereas today, we have to succeed quickly or move on.

Where do you draw the line? It isn’t a cut and dried answer, by any stretch. The line depends on whether you have the time and/or resources (economic, emotional, etc.) to push through to success. You will have to decide. Use your own, personal tally system to find an answer to whether you are persevering or stubbornly persisting in a failed venture.
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Robert Spencer.
This information published to the web on May 29, 2017.