Innovation is in the Flaw

Innovation is in the Flaw

Tonight I flew up to Portland to train for the world championships. This evening flight is always scenic. I looked out the window at magnificent views and wanted to take some photos.

The problem was, the plane windows were scratched. Any beautiful vista I saw was obscured by blurry smudges.

I tried to move my camera lens around the smudges, desperate for a crisp image. Then I imagined something different. What if the scratches weren’t a problem? What if they were the point? What if the photo were focused on the scratches?

My photo shoot immediately transformed. Once I figured out how to tame the primitive focusing abilities of my mobile phone camera, a new kind of image emerged. A more authentic Arthur image. My photographic style straddles the super formal and the worship of imperfection. By letting scratches be not only okay but the reason for the image, I let my creativity loose and reconnected to the kind of art I like to create.

Then a funny thing happened. The flight attendant, Lori, saw me trying to focus and took pity on me. She thought, “that poor guy is struggling so hard to get a nice sunset photo.” She asked for my phone and offered it to the passenger in front of me, hoping he could get a clearer image.

I thanked her and let her know my crazy-looking refocusing was on purpose. I could tell she didn’t quite understand. At the end of the flight, I showed her my favorite image and thanked her again for looking out for me. Not quite sure she believed my appreciation, but I think she got a better idea of the unconventional image I was trying to create.

The flaw – those damn scratches and smudges – were the key to innovation. I’m sure others have taken images like this before, and I’ve used this technique in the past of focusing on an unexpected foreground to create a different composition. Guess I had forgotten. I know I got better results tonight than if I clung to the rules.

It’s a good reminder. When we see something we assume is a flaw, it might be an opportunity to innovate.

(This article was originally published on arthurcoddington.com)

About Arthur Coddington

Arthur Coddington, a speaker and author, is a 16-time world champion athlete. His champion perspective helps community and business leaders reinvent the way they achieve their goals. Featured on ESPN, Eurosport and Fox Sports, Arthur offers a unique view on success informed by twenty years at the top of his sport. Beyond the playing field, Arthur has led the iconic Frisbee, Hacky Sack and Hula Hoop brands and directed Craigslist Foundation's technology initiatives