How frustration can lead to innovation

“Argh, I’m so frustrated!” How many times have you uttered that phrase? Too many to count, is probably the answer, especially if you’re the entrepreneurial type. We tend to be all-too-familiar with frustration.

But have you ever thought about turning frustration on its head, and using it to your advantage? After all, some of the most original and innovative ideas – from disruptive businesses to game-changing campaigns – have been borne out of pure frustration.

Frustration is a trigger

Rose Cartolari, a leadership strategist and executive coach, makes the point that frustration can help drive vision and innovation, but says it’s only a jumping off point.

“Frustration is just a trigger – you can be frustrated without that leading to true innovation,” she says. “Plenty of entrepreneurs are trying to innovate, but if they’re not paying attention to all the things they need to put in place to get an original idea implemented, they can end up all over the place.”

We’ve all known folk who seem to get stuck in feelings of frustration, whereas many entrepreneurs and original thinkers have worked out how to harness frustration to positive effect, citing frustration as the very thing that motivated them to start a business.

Frustration can be a helpful starting point on the path to innovation, but it’s what you do next in response that determines whether you’ll move from a place of frustration towards finding innovative solutions, according to Cartolari.

“Feelings of frustration mean you’ve identified a problem, so the next step is to use the other part of your brain,” she explains. “Use your creative, strategic and thinking skills to get some data around the problem; find out if you’re the only person who feels this way for a start, because putting definable metrics around a very strong emotion like frustration is what brings the method and discipline that can help carry you forward.”

Read: Forget the lightbulb moment

Thought isn’t fact

Frustration can be an “excellent state” to motivate us into new action, agrees Nova Reid, NLP life and wellbeing coach. To move from an unhelpful frustrated state into an innovative space, she recommends consciously altering the way you think.

“We frequently underestimate the power of thought, and consequently end up getting in our own way when it comes to achieving our goals because of unhealthy thought-processes that don’t serve us,” she explains.

“Thought is not fact. Unhealthy thought patterns can lead to heightened responses to stress, which affect our ability to process information and think clearly. As Henry Ford said, ‘Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right’.”

Throughout Cartolari’s corporate career – from two decades as the chief operating officer of a pharmaceutical company she founded, to coaching leaders and executive clients from all backgrounds – she says she’s observed that individuals and organisations typically change or innovate for one of two reasons.

“One is that you hate where you are so much to the extent that you don’t have a future there, so you have to change, and the other is that you have such a strong vision or idea  of where you want to be that you feel compelled to pursue it,” she says. “Those are the two scenarios where I consistently see people changing and innovating.”

To illustrate the point, she cites the difference between an individual who merely wants to lose weight, and one that succeeds in actually doing so. The latter has generally either reached a point of such extreme frustration that they’re motivated to make whatever lifestyle changes necessary, or they’ve developed such a clearly-defined strategic vision of how they’re going to lose weight, that they feel compelled to follow it through.

You are not your goals

Ultimately, harnessing frustration for positive effect entails distinguishing your sense of self-worth from your goals, according to Reid. The person who berates themselves for gaining weight in the first place is unlikely to use that frustration to fuel the change they long for.

“Your self-worth is not linked to your success,” Reid says. “Use past evidence of how you have successfully achieved tasks to boost your confidence, trust in your skill set and reinforce your abilities.”

It’s sage advice. Recently, a series of small setbacks deterred a friend from developing her freelance career when opportunities to do so came her way. She turned down clients and even cancelled projects because of various frustrations, most of which were driven by anxieties and fears. She literally let those frustrations stifle her long-held plans to grow her business, until friends persuaded her that allowing fear to hold her back from pushing forwards would only create greater frustrations further down the line.

“When multiple people whose opinions you trust start sounding exactly like each other, it’s time to recognise that they might all have a point,” she says. “In the end, facing my frustrations spurred me on to make my business better.”

Focus on what you can do

“Much frustration is rooted in fear, so actively turning frustration into positive thought can help put fear to flight,” agrees Cartolari. “Try turning it around to focus on the things you can do or the difference you can make, so you don’t end up mired in the emotion of frustration.”

To put it another way; the next time frustration stops you in your tracks, try reflecting on the opportunities for innovation that moment holds. What happens next might just surprise you.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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