Zoom out a thousand years and consider what life was like in the year 1,000. While today certainly is not without challenges, you don’t have to be a history professor to appreciate that it is much better to be alive now. Frankly, in the space of a millennium, humanity has flourished. We have done so because we have invented incredible ways to make our lives better. From sanitation and electricity to antibiotics and the personal computer, our species has improved its lot day-by-day through our creativity and ingenuity.
But there was no guarantee that we would do so. In fact, the men and women who were responsible for each of these inventions had to work hard to develop them. What made their jobs so hard? They had to find the clarity to make the first versions work.
Hence, I believe that if you want to make the world better, you need to find clarity.
The challenge is this: finding clarity is hard.
What do I know about finding clarity?
While I don’t know everything, I do feel I know about this. That's because I encounter this every day. At Protective, my team and I are charged with building new solutions that help Protective invent new ways to grow and (potentially) revolutionize the business of insurance. Prior to Protective, I've also led similar efforts at three startups and many other large institutions: as a founder and CEO, as a consultant with McKinsey and Company and independently.
How to find clarity: Three pieces of advice
My first piece of advice is to embrace that confusion is the norm. What? True. The truth is that most of us most of the time aren’t having “bolt of lightning” ideas that turn into the internet or antibiotics. Most of us aren’t writing Pulitzer-prize winning tweets every day. And that’s OK. Coming from this point of view is helpful because it sets clear expectations on how hard it is to find clarity.
Second, I think it is vital to celebrate the painful process of getting to clarity. Clarity takes a culture that promotes the prickly, often unreasonable process of getting to it. Finding clarity requires challenging ideas. It requires “being difficult.” And this doesn’t align with most cultures where convention and compliance are often the most valued. My advice is to examine your culture and norms to understand whether you are enabling clarity or not. Are you celebrating critical thinking? Are you pushing to do more for your clients? Questioning proposals? Are you sharing data so that people can comment and critique? Are you giving people the space to think and working with people who value your perspective?
Third, put in the work. Clarity doesn’t happen overnight. It takes iterations, revisions, tests and feedback. It takes truly defining a problem and defining a novel mechanism for solving it. All of this takes time and work. But it is through this work that true clarity and insight happens. So, turn off the distractions, shut the door and go. If you want to get to clarity, put in the work.
In the end, I believe clarity is hard but necessary to drive human progress. I hope you agree. If you are starting a new project or running a big institution, and you want to do something big, I hope you found this advice helpful. In the meantime, I am looking forward to gaining from whatever great idea you come up with!
Will Wright is a lifelong innovator and VP of Innovation at Protective.