Reflection and Innovation – are they mutually exclusive?

In my work I come across two types of thinkers – those who think very deeply about a smaller set of ideas and those who are riding a wave of rapidly changing technologies and situations. Of course, this is actually a spectrum of thinking. No one is all the way on one end or another but it seems like sometimes these traits polarize in groups, pitting the reflectors and against the innovators.

In same cases this is a matter of pace. Innovators tend to think quickly about ideas, rapidly transition from one situation to another, building on previous ideas and reaching for the new ones. A reflector does not let go of one idea until it is more thoroughly understood, unpacking it fully before moving on. These are both great strengths. Without reflection, one does not learn fully from past successes and failures and build a strong foundation for moving forward. Without innovation, one gets stuck in ruts and doesn’t move on, sometimes even when the world has.

Innovators help prepare for the future – reflectors ensure wisdom in future choices. Ideally these two work together. But when the innovator is rapidly firing out ideas before the reflector has a chance to get his/her head around any one of them, how does that work?

Only through mutual respect and acknowledgement of the tension, can both parties accommodate each other’s needs and work together. The innovator must slow down at times, let the reflectors grapple with ideas. Even better, grapple with them and take some time to unpack the ideas and slowly let the ideas marinate with perspectives from others. The reflector must also let go sometimes and let the innovator run with something. Let themselves be surprised by new things and challenge themselves to take risks and letting innovation just happen sometimes, and learn what they can as they go by, without having to understand it all. Those leaps of faith might be the only way a reflector is able to keep up with quickly changing landscapes.

In the end, an innovator cannot succeed without history and a reflector will have nothing to reflect upon except the past if they don’t let the future unroll at its own pace.



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