[Quote] What people see as fearlessness

Innovators need stable, must-do purposes, at both project and portfolio levels.

[Quote] What people see as fearlessness

Extended quote:

"What people see as fearlessness
is really persistence.

Because I am focused on the solution, I don't see danger.
Because I don't see danger, I don't allow my mind to imagine what might happen to me, which is my definition of fear.
If you don't foresee the danger and see only the solution, then you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.

This is not to say we were reckless. We found ways to protect ourselves. ...
In the end, what was important was that we showed we were not intimidated. We were in the right and had stood up for what we believed in.”

– Prof. Wangari Maathai. Kenyan activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner

Editorial comment: Obviously, a Nobel Peace Prize winner's work and lessons matter way more than mine. If you'd like to learn more about Prof. Maathai's work, I included a range of links at the end of the postπŸ‘‡.

The point for innovation

If an innovation team's agenda keeps changing to the point of inducing mental whiplash between projects, then its members can't be "persistent," let alone "fearless."

Instead, innovators need must-do purposes at both the project and portfolio agenda levels. (Note: At the portfolio level, it can be enough to have a "must-do" at the total north star level. Each project within the portfolio need not be a must-do if the portfolio is large and diverse enough to make up for it with numbers.)

Without the discipline of persistence, nothing else matters in innovation:

  • Results take time: We often "create something from nothing." Even the most lean and agile and sprint-driven and MVP version of that will still take more time than tweaking something in a scaled business that many people built over many decades. Innovators can and must manage to deliver meaningful value in a time frame that's relevant to their stakeholders. But there is a limit. I have had to show leaders how fast Google grew in the early days and that the growth they expected was even faster. Maybe not the most realistic goal. In the end, leaders must understand that sales and profits are a lagging metric that we earn by demonstrating value to users first.
  • Persistence builds competence, efficiency, and savings: With constant change, innovators always have to start from scratch on some part of their work. It's not possible to build great skills or routines. Persistence of vision and work build speed. E.g., with persistent work topics, an innovation team can build relationships with users in online forums or experts at local events. When the next round of design research is needed, highly qualified interviewees may be willing to help out with little effort or cost from the team. Also, team members can build up expertise, asking better questions as researchers, using better data and more sophisticated analyses faster as strategists, and so on.
  • Faith in leaders takes stable visions: If executives keep changing course, teams will become skeptical fairly fast about those leaders have the competence to direct work. Trust in and respect for the leader drop as a result.
  • Good innovation agendas take either "must-do" purposes or stable portfolios: Both are forms of persistence. Without either, teams will take low-likelihood chances and then, instead of refining those chances, switch to different topics where they again have bad odds.


H/t to The Economist's "World in Brief" newsletter (Mar 13, 2023 edition), where I first encountered the quote.


by Wangari Maathai

Anchor (2007)

Find on publisher's website

Special callout

Nobel Prize winners are all so worth learning about!

For a blog with very readable portraits of several more female Nobel Prize winners, see the one created by my mom, either in German or English (via Google Translate. Auto-translation may be incorrect or problematic, as all AI.) Also on the Instas, with a broader focus.

I may be biased. But I think it's pretty darn good. Highly recommend! (Thanks mom! 😊)

Further reading

The Green Belt Movement. "Wangari Maathai." Accessed Dec 01, 2023. https://www.greenbeltmovement.org/wangari-maathai

Maathai, W. (2007). Unbowed: A Memoir. Anchor. http://books.google.com/books?id=WR6ODQAAQBAJ&hl=&source=gbs_api 

Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Wangari Maathai – Facts. NobelPrize.org. Accessed Dec 1, 2023. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2004/maathai/facts

Wangari Maathai. In Wikipedia. Accessed Dec 01, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangari_Maathai