One of the most basic rules of opportunity development is that you cannot create your own opportunities. You must see openings in the competitive environment that shape openings for you. The nature of real creativity is in innovative ways of seeing opportunitiYou must know how to creatively adapt your unique skills to fit those openings. Strategic innovation at once both violates and confirms that rule.
Creativity is Infinite
Quoting Sun Tzu is always difficult. Each line of Sun Tzu's work requires extensive explanation. However, this quote is important:
You must use surprise for a successful invasion.
Surprise is as infinite as the weather and land.
Surprise is as inexhaustible as the flow of a river.
The Art of War, 5.2:4-6
What made Sun Tzu think that the land was infinite? Did he know so little of geography? Just the opposite. He realized that innovation creates the strategic element that he calls "the ground." The precise definition of this element is our source of resources. Innovation creates the value in resources. Since innovation is infinite, innovation can convert worthless ground into worthwhile ground. Out of wasteland, new valuable ground is created.
Seeing the Internet as New Ground
You are proving Sun Tzu's ideas right now. You are reading this on the Internet. This is exactly the type of new ground that Sun Tzu knew the infinite human imagination could create. The vast territory of the Internet didn't exist twenty years ago. Today it is valuable property in which millions of people are competing for billions of eyeballs.
Individuals, making little improvements in areas that they know, have opened up all huge new territory that exists today. Every industry, every field of science, and even new governments are created out of nothing from the human imagination.
Creating What Is Already There
So new opportunities can be createdby our own individual acts of innovation. However, none of our actions alone creates that opportunity. It is combining our actions with those of others. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both driving forces behind the personal computer revolution, but it was the potential in the larger environment that made their success possible. Their efforts only leveraged that potential. Opportunities are created not by our efforts alone but by all our efforts together.
The Chinese character that Sun Tzu used to describe human creativity and imagination is usually translated into "surprise." The problem with that term is that it focuses too much attention on the emotional result as opposed to the process for creating it. While the emotional reaction to innovation is certainly an important and necessary element of strategy, we have seen that we must make our innovation work. To do that, we must leverage our connections to other people and our knowledge of how the world works. We must then have the courage and the techniques to innovate safely. The value of catching people unaware and exciting them through innovation is immense, but the real value of innovation is in the beauty of how it all comes together.