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Fishing is a traditional sport, often handed down by parents to children. But fishing also offers a window on innovation, argues Minnesota-based researcher Dennis Stauffer on the Innovation Mindset blog:

You have to keep putting your line in the water

You don't expect to hook a fish on your first cast, and similarly with innovation you have to keep trolling, making multiple forays if you wish to land the big one.

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Where and when is as important as the what

The best bait and the most skilled casting won't be enough if you aren't where the fish are. "Skill is important but so is timing and being in the right place," Mr. Stauffer writes. "Many great ideas have come too soon or too late to succeed, or were tried in the wrong place."

Past is prologue

If something didn't work when you tried it before, that doesn't mean you won't be successful today. What didn't work yesterday may be the best solution today.

It won't necessarily keep working

You may have an ideal fishing spot on the lake that has produced great catches the last six times you have been fishing. But it may be a loser today. Don't assume your successes will continue forever. A successful fisherman – and innovator – has a variety of techniques because success and failure are temporary.

Failure is part of the process

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Fishermen and innovators know failure will occur. You must learn from it.

Uncertainty is a given

There is no way to know when the fish will be biting so the fast-talking fisherman who claims he knows exactly when they will strike is usually deluding himself and anyone who believes him. "Worse, it's an assumption that will probably lead you to stop the kind of systematic exploration you need to practice. The surest way to stop learning is to assume that you already have all the answers," Mr. Stauffer warns.

Patience counts

Fishermen know that they will spend more time pursuing fish than catching them – and are content with that reality. Innovators need the same patience.

Be humble

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As U.S. president Herbert Hoover once said, "All men are equal before fish." An innovation idea can come from anyone. "Even a novice can catch a whopper while the veterans get skunked," Mr. Stauffer writes.

You can't control all the variables

No matter how proficient you are at fishing – or innovation – you can't anticipate all the challenges you will face, or control all the parameters. You need to be skilled at dealing with the unknown.

When the fish are biting, keep fishing

Take advantage of the good times – but remember they can change suddenly.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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