Is This Innovative Enough?

John W Lewis's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Nov 03, 2016

A (Hopefully not Too Self-Conscious) Conversation about Self-Consciousness and Innovation 

This week's innochat in hosted and framing post provided by Ken Gordon

Last week, on the #innochat Facebook page, Joshua Gutoff, @jgutoff, raised the question of how “self-consciousness” and “authenticity” do—or can or might—affect people aiming to innovate. But that wasn’t enough! On Thursday, November 3, at 12 noon ET, Gutoff—who directs the MA program in Jewish Education at Gratz College—will, along with Ken Gordon, @quickmuse, lead a lively conversation on this provocative topic. Join us, innocats… and do what you can to keep it real!

We know that there’s nothing less cool than deliberately trying to be cool. Similarly, the desire to be “authentic” can be antithetical to actual authenticity, just as spontaneity will be subverted by a concern with spontaneity. There are really two different problems here: one is the difference between seeming and being, where the creator supplies what he or she thinks are observable hallmarks of authenticity (or spontaneity, or whatever) in place of what we might call “authentic” authenticity. The other is a little more invidious, and it has to do with the problem of self-consciousness, where the creator steps back from the work to see if it is sufficiently authentic or original or whatever. The writer David Lodge described this in Small World: a novelist is shown the results of a lexical analysis of his previous works which identifies his most commonly used words. From that point on he is paralyzed, so concerned with “originality” that he is unable to write at all. Of course, self-awareness is often a good thing. We can remind ourselves to be meticulous in our work, to be generous in our dealings with others, to avoid becoming creatures of habit. We want the civil engineer to worry about how careful she is in calculating the tolerances of the bridge, even at the risk of being less than fully spontaneous or in-the-moment. How do these issues play out in the process of innovation? How does the desire to be innovative affect the ability to innovate? 


  1. What issues are created by a need to appear innovative: to one’s colleagues, one’s clients, or the market?
  2. How does one navigate the difference between the appearance of innovation and "real" innovation?
  3. How does a conscious concern with innovation influence your work? Is it a distraction, or a compass?
  4. At what point in the creative process should one ask, “Is this innovative?”
  5. How might we cultivate a mindset that leads to innovation without the distractions of self-consciousness?


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