What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day. – Marcel Proust
The madeleine is a delightful cake and an ideal inspiration for Proust’s great remembrance. Each madeleine depends on a series of transformations. There are many variations on the basic recipe but they all involve these changes to achieve the final result.
First sugar and eggs are beaten until pale and doubled in volume trapping air.
Then butter and flour are gently folded in to form an airy batter.
The batter rests. This is the step that takes confidence and daunts the beginner. However waiting to the right time thickens the batter to the consistency of a fine mousse.
Lastly the heat of the oven sets the batter into light & fragrant cakes.
The Transformations of Innovation
When we confront uncertainty and seek to create innovation whether in knowledge, a product or a business, we must follow similar series of transformations. We must create new ways forward ourselves by taking the uncertainty and transforming it.
We must add volume: if we don’t know then we need to seek, explore and learn. We need to add to our uncertainties before we can resolve them. We need more context and bigger systemic view to form new knowledge, new services or paths forward for a business.
We must create structure: when our expanded ideas begin to collapse under their weight and we doubt anything useful will come we need to start adding structure. Hypotheses, examples, principles, systems and process to support our new ways.
We need to use time as an ally: Not every new idea should be tested immediately. Many do. Some need to mature. Some need more work. Some need to meet the right circumstances. We need to use this time with confidence to enable our ideas to strengthen. This is not passivity. This is the work. We need to be ready to act when the ideas are ready to test.
We must test our innovation in fire: Testing is the only way to discover the flaws. We may fail and need to start again. The obstacles are the work. We might succeed and be able to continue testing all the while to ensure we remain on track to something better.
These transformations of innovation are not easy. These transform us as much as our innovation. They make us ready for success. They are the work we must do to surface great new ideas, products and businesses. We can’t skip steps. We can’t race ahead. We must just stay at our work of creating the future.
Ten times over I must essay the task, must lean down over the abyss. And each time the natural laziness which deters us from every difficult enterprise, every work of importance, has urged me to leave the thing alone, to drink my tea and to think merely of the worries of to-day and of my hopes for to-morrow, which let themselves be pondered over without effort or distress of mind.
And suddenly the memory returns… – Marcel Proust