Innovation Is Birthed from Disorder

Here’s some advice for the explorer in you who desires to make the world better, particularly the young bright sparks who are just setting out. Trust all your senses.

When your experience compels you to seek something different and your intuition beckons you off the beaten track, be wary of voices that try to bring intellectual order to your exploration too soon.

You are, after all in the sacred headwaters of hunches, disquiet and ambiguity. This is the birthplace of insight, invention and innovation.

Hunches, disquiet and ambiguity are the birthplace of insight, invention and innovation.

These voices may be inside or outside your head.

Here’s one I try to resist: “That’s just like so and so is doing. You should read their report, buy that book or watch this presentation…”

There may well be value in comparing experiences intellectually. But if done too soon it will draw you back into your head. And that’s what you need to escape from.

Before you know it, your authentic and unique experience will be coloured by someone else’s. And you may end up adopting or adapting to what you’ve read about. Which may be fine. But you won’t have a basis for comparison. And the breakthrough you were on course to discovering remains elusive.

It’s a fine balance, but sense-making involves other senses besides the intellect.

Insight like childbirth requires a long gestation. No matter how many books you read, it is still based on personal experience.


Perfectly ordered disorder,

Designed with helter-skelter magnificence.

— Emily Carr

and you won’t give up the search
for the ghosts in the halls…

— from Sarah McLaughlan’s Building a Mystery


Re-posted by permission of Al Etmanski from his blog Home page image: See-Ming Lee photo of Mixed Media Painting (Detail) by Choichun Leung 2009.

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About the Lead Author

Al Etmanski
Al Etmanski is a community organizer, social entrepreneur and author. ( (@aletmanski ) His latest books are Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation and The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving and Changing the World. He is a faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development Institute (ABCD), an Ashoka fellow, senior fellow Social Innovation Generation and Co-Chair of BC Partners for Social Impact. Al is co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), a family run social enterprise assisting families address the financial and social well-being of their relative with a disability, particularly after their parents die. He proposed and led the successful campaign to establish the world’s first savings plan for people with disabilities, the Registered Disability Savings Plan. John McKnight endorsed Al's book Impact by saying: Impact is a chronicle of the wisdom Etmanski has gained in exploring the keys to long-term social change. His findings lead us out of the past and onto a pathway for progress in the 21st century. Once describing Al as an Abundant Community Pioneer, Peter Block wrote: Al Etmanski is one of North America's best social inventors. He has looked beyond traditional institituions and their failures to create new means of achieving a better life. His analysis of the forms of organization that enable local communities while avoiding rigid hierarchies is groundbreaking. His book A Good Life is a wonderful and practical guide to the potential for neighbors to grow strong through the power of hospitality. Michael J. Fox said of Al's latest book, The Power of Disability: This book reminds us of what we have in common: the power to create a good life for ourselves and for others, no matter what the world has in store for us.

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