Pains of discipline and regret in innovation work

Nov 01, 2019 |Posted by Jared Simmons | Innovation

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” – Jim Rohn

Do you have an established process for managing innovation projects?

What percentage of your projects move through this process as it is designed–without bypassing steps, being granted exceptions, expedited approvals, etc?

How many new hires are on a project that is following the standard innovation process?

In most circumstances, the connection between discipline and regret is painfully obvious: exercising (discipline) vs. poor health (regret); studying for a test (discipline) vs failing it (regret). When doing innovation work in a cross-functional environment, the distinctions are often harder to see.

The pains of discipline are often seen as hindrances to the creative, insight-driven world of innovation–often blamed for slowing down the process or stifling truly disruptive ideas. Conversely, the pains of regret are often worn as a badge of honor. Organizations consider these pains part of business as usual–just “how it works.” Innovation work is, indeed, a painful process that has its hits and misses, but only the pain of discipline has the power to improve future outcomes.

Here’s what they look like in our daily work:

Pains of discipline (often seen as “slowing down the process”):

  • Establishing and enforcing clear, unambiguous decision rights
  • Conducting deep, data-driven post-project reviews
  • Providing coaches and mentors for employees in cross-functional teams
  • Establishing a single incentive structure for cross-functional teams
  • Removing ineffective team members


Pains of regret (often just seen as “how it works”):

  • Repeating steps – qualifications, experiments, tests
  • In-market failures
  • Split success – functional wins in a business loss
  • Stagnant innovation pool – lack of new ideas
  • Slow execution of existing ideas
  • Launching “successful” products that grow volume but aren’t profitable


Why pains of discipline and regret matter

Innovation processes, like most creative pursuits, are actually enhanced by some amount of structure. An artist’s first decision is their medium, which imposes a set of constraints that can be used as another source of inspiration. A strong, effective, disciplined innovation work process–though painful to implement–can serve the same purpose. Teams who see it as a hindrance will experience the regret of a weak innovation pipeline with occasional successes that are difficult to replicate. Teams who see a structured process as a form of inspiration will find the discipline needed to generate a repeatable, consistent flow of new and improved products and services.

Pain is part of the process–it’s up to you which type you choose.

Do your innovation teams experience the pain of discipline or regret?

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Jared Simmons


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