The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation

By     Sep 12, 2011

NAS team

This post was the result of the efforts of several members of the staff

The chapter “Pain” from Robert Grudin’s book approaches leadership and innovation from a rarely-discussed perspective. Grudin’s definition of pain refers to emotional, rather than physical, discomfort. Rather than being a weakness, pain and the fear of pain are actually evolutionary strengths in humans. Consciously enduring pain has resulted in some of the greatest expansions in technology and human progress. People must be open to all experiences—including those that are painful—to fully harness creativity. However, we often shrink away from pain and try to avoid hurtful situations to maintain a certain level of comfort. We learn to value security over achievement and eventually settle at a level far from the top rung of the ladder. Some attribute this to a lack of ability, but Grudin contends that people simply seek to avoid the risk of failure as the stakes increase. For the development of our own careers as well as for the betterment of society, Grudin calls for a shift from harm avoidance to embracing painful moments.

This selection makes a good discussion piece for your team. You may or may not agree with Grudin’s point that pain is good for us. However, it is interesting to think about what types of innovation might come about in your organization if it weren’t for the fear of failure and embarrassment. Grudin also states that oftentimes projects are never finished or improved upon due to pain avoidance. Most of us can relate to this idea, remembering the paper we never revised or the project never saw through. It is valuable for leaders to consider what they could accomplish without the fear of failure.

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