Why We Need Failed Explorers

If we want to create a world beyond our imagination, we need failed explorers. If all explorers were successful, we’d be limited to a world where the margins were safe. But we needed Amelia Earhart to fly around the world—even if she didn’t make it. We needed thousands of failed rockets before we could actually get into space.

And, as an innovator, you have to learn to embrace the fear—of walking off the edge of a map and never returning—if you want to go to places no one has ever gone.

My Struggle with Innovation

This struggle isn’t always easy. On good days, I consider myself more innovative than my peers. I see what they’re doing, the limitations of those five or ten years ahead of me, and I realize I can avoid this. I can do the thing now that will keep me from getting stuck. Except each time this happens, I have no idea if what I’m seeing will work. After all, most people wait five years to ten years get to this place… and I want to do it in two.

Which seems crazy—in fact, it is a bit crazy. If it was normal and sane, well, everyone would do it. Everyone would build a high-level team in just a couple of years, everyone would take more time off and invest in deep work, everyone would practice with feeling guilt so they could be more free… but they don’t. Most coaches shoot to sign high-end clients and build a $250k practice.

But I saw how that’s a dead end. How becoming a small celebrity is just as much of a prison as it’s an advantage. And so instead I’m building a geodesic dome in a land of houses. The result of which is half the time I feel all fucking smug and brilliant and the other half of the time I feel like a totally stupid asshole.

And feeling this is old, like biblical old. I mean, people who knew Noah were all like “Why the fuck are you building a ship in the desert?” And maybe Noah wasn’t real, but even if he wasn’t, the story shows us that this feeling of seeing further than those around you do—and the doubt it causes—is normal.

When you see far ahead of others, you’re always going to vacillate, between this deep-down feeling and calm joy that you’ve seen what others have missed, and this gut-wrenching doubt that everyone else missed it because there really isn’t anything there.

The real challenge is that people who are deluded feel the same way. In fact, the only difference between prescience and foolhardiness is what the future turns out to be.

The Path of Innovation

But that’s the path of innovation. And if the primary tools of innovation are curiosity, creativity, and instinct, then trusting ourselves becomes vital.

I’d much rather trust my instincts, and fail, than live in doubt. Because if I continually test my instincts I can develop them—and if I continually trust my doubt, it grows instead. (And anyway, we already have two whole industries dedicated to thinking about what could go wrong, and those jobs are already filled by lawyers and insurance agents.)

So if you want to be innovative, you can just hope you’ll always be right. But sometimes you’ll be wrong. Instead, it’s a question of what you want to trust.

I may be crazy to build out before I’m ready, to try to deconstruct coaching in a way other people don’t seem to care about or have even attempted. Maybe I’m crazy to a take a week off a month to write, think, and ponder the things I’m working on. But then again, maybe I’m way ahead of the curve.

Either way, I’d still choose the path of innovation. Not because it makes me better, but because it’s interesting. I’m the guy who flew across the country and showed up on a doorstep with flowers. The guy who left his career in the music business to live in a Zen monastery. The guy who’s worked more than 30 jobs because he wouldn’t settle for less than a life that challenged every part of who he is.

And if you’re reading this blog maybe you are like that, too. And if you are, I invite you to lean into the insanity and feeling that you could be wrong. After all, it’s probably not going to go anywhere. But just in case it does, be willing to experience the guilt, the discomfort, and the weirdness of getting what you want.

If everyone thinks you’re normal or in some ways even laudable, you might just be treading the path everyone else is already on, instead of the path of the explorer—a path no person (at least no person just like you) has ever walked.