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Author and tech founder Josh Linkner speaking at the 2022 ULI Spring Meeting in San Diego.

Self-proclaimed “creative troublemaker” Josh Linkner, founder and chief executive officer of five tech companies that sold for a combined $200 million, delivered the keynote for the Closing General Session of the 2022 ULI Spring Meeting in San Diego.

Linkner, author of two New York Times bestsellers—Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity and The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation—delivered an engaging talk titled “The Five Mind-Sets of Innovation.”

The five mind-sets of everyday innovators are

  1. Start before you’re ready. “We wait for permission or a directive from the boss. Maybe we wait for ideal conditions or a perfect game plan. But there’s a real risk in waiting, and the risk is that we might give up the opportunity altogether,” Linkner said. The most innovative people do something different: they see that opportunity even though they do not see the finish line. They start anyway, and they figure it out as they go. “They’re willing to bob and weave and course correct as conditions change,” he said. It may sound risky, but the even better approach is to come up with a lot of ideas and do a lot of testing. For example, Linkner noted that the chief executive officer of Menlo Innovative, Rick Sheridan, has a mantra: “Let’s run the experiment.” See what happens—not assume it’s not going to happen. Run the experiment. And keep a “to-test list” as if it were a “to-do list.”
  2. Break it to fix it. “Now, we’ve all heard that saying, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Linkner said. “Whoever invented that saying, that’s a terrible piece of advice. . . . The best innovators do the opposite.” He advises people to examine systems and processes that look fine on the surface and deconstruct them to look for better ways. For example, designing Speedo swimwear meant deconstructing the accepted norms of swimwear that is “smaller, smoother, and faster.” Fiona Fairhurst, a new employee of Speedo tasked with coming up with a faster swimsuit, disregarded the focus on smaller, smoother, faster, and instead took her inspiration from sharks, which have little ridges on their skin that allows them to swim faster underwater. The result was the SpeedoFastskin swimsuit that covers most of the body and was responsible for roughly 80 percent of competitive medals won around the world two years after it was released.
  3. Use every drop of toothpaste. “It’s a playful phrase about being scrappy and resourceful—using our ingenuity to solve problems instead of just throwing money or resources at them,” he said. The Urban Dictionary defines “MacGyvering” as the ability to jump-start a truck with a cactus.
  4. Reach for weird. A campaign to support a failing library in Troy, Michigan, was creative and humorous, inviting people to a book burning party, which generated much commentary and traction on social media. People debated the “merits of libraries and the audacity of burning books. The conversation spread from Facebook to city council meetings, from newspapers to TV,” Linkner said. “It grew from local to national, even international news.” Eventually the library unveiled its true campaign: “A vote against the library is like a vote to burn books.”
  5. Fall seven times, stand eight. This last mind-set is about resilience. “It’s a recognition that if you want to enjoy innovation, you’re going to have to tolerate some setbacks and mistakes en route,” he said. “There’s no such thing as error-free innovation.”

SIBLEY FLEMING is editor in chief of Urban Land.