Friday, November 02, 2018

Why innovators need to eat frogs

Innovation is a long process of tackling very complex problems and often problems nobody has been trying to tackle before. Throughout my career I have been working at a number of hard innovation projects, building IOT like solutions way before IOT was a known phrase and developing cryptographic solutions to allow secure communication with chips on government ID cards. In all those cases I followed the mantra of Google X without knowing it, even before Google was a real company and Google X existed.

The mantra at Google X, the moonshot department of Google where people tackle really hard problems is #MonkyFirst. The idea behind this is that if you want a monkey to recite Shakespeare on a pedestal you do not start with building the pedestal. Everyone can build a pedestal; a lot of people have been building a pedestal before Training the monkey is the hard part. If you are unable to train the monkey to recite Shakespeare there is no need to build the pedestal at all.

In short, try to tackle the hard problem first before you spend time and money on tackling the parts of your project that you know will not be that hard.

The mantra #MonkeyFirst is also stated by Mark Twain in a bit of a different form while having the same meaning. Mark Twain wrote; “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day”.

Companies start to eat frogs
In companies around the world the common thing to do is to build the pedestal first and after that try to train the monkey. One of the reasons for it is that people tend to desire quick satisfaction and within companies there is commonly a tendency that management want to see tangible results fast. Building the pedestal is something that can quickly be done and it will show results towards management. Showing what you have accomplished is a more convenient message to tell than providing a long list on why it is so hard to train a monkey.

However, if you are unable to train the monkey there is no reason to build a pedestal. Eating the frog or #MonkeyFirst ties a bit into the “fail fast, fail early, fail cheap" concept.


As resources can only be spend once it is in the best interest of a company to make sure that you fail early in a project. If it turns out that you are unable to train the monkey before you spend resources on building a, then useless, pedestal you have saved burning resources without getting a usable output from it.

Say no to your inner self
It is a natural thing to try to get instant satisfaction, it is a natural thing to build the pedestal first and see what you have achieved. However, it is a wiser thing to try and train the monkey first. On a personal level it is difficult to say no to the natural tendency. Within an enterprise it is equally hard to change the mindset to aim for instant satisfaction. Changing the mindset within an enterprise might even be harder than changing your own inner mindset.

However, changing to a culture of eating frogs is very beneficial for enterprises how strive for innovation. Eating frogs will save valuable time and money and ensures that the focus is on projects that have a higher rate of providing a success. 

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