in his book, “The Courage to Create,” speaks about the darker side of creativity - about the demons that people face who take it upon themselves to forge something tangible from an idea that was once beyond the scope of their peers.
May points out that in its conceptual form, an idea can be perfect, but with each step of the creative process, that brilliant, idealized vision is compromised as the inventor struggles to express it through his or her personal limitations and those of current technology. To be creative, one must be able to face continual disappointment, knowing from the beginning that the end product can never match its idealized form. Knowing that it could have been done better. All of us are creative by nature, but less than a handful in a hundred have the courage to create.
Our sport often mistakes cleverness for creativity. There is little risk to be clever. There is no downside to conjuring up ways to make an existing product lighter, stronger, faster or more attractive. When asked, almost every mountain bike rider would describe next year’s ultimate bicycle or product in reference to the ones they currently like, only much better, and perhaps in a different color. Most of us conceptualize the future by projecting a composite image of familiar things that we desire - which makes us easy prey to clever products masked as innovation.
On the contrary, the risk of failure or rejection for a groundbreaking product is close to 100 percent. One must identify a potential problem, project a solution, and then develop that into a product at considerable expense for customers who, in most cases, have yet to identify any need for it.
How do you know if you need or want something if it does not yet exist in your imagination? Unless you are the rare visionary, you can’t - and it is human nature to reject those things we neither need nor understand.
Many of the mountain bike’s most profound innovations, like clipless pedals, the Gravity Dropper, tubeless tires, suspension and disc brakes faced pointed opposition from both experienced riders and opinion makers who espoused that because they didn’t perceive a need the new technology, that nobody else truly needed it. Of course, history and the iPhone bear witness that the moment an unrealized innovation is demonstrated to have benefit or appeal, most naysayers switch camps and typically, they become the sharpest critics of the old regime.
It is understandable that those who have reached the top of their mountain bike games would be the most inclined to reject the possibility that someone out there has developed a new riding style or a product that would (at least temporarily) lead to their obsolescence. Yet, there are hundreds of creative minds working out ways to do just that, and you can be sure that some will achieve success – but not without help.
As brave as one needs to be to accept the risks and overcome the sometimes daunting negativity that is part and parcel of the creative process, the effort would be stillborn unless its potential was recognized and supported. First Adopters may lack the creative impulse to invent, but they possess the intuition and understanding to recognize the value of innovation and most importantly, they have the courage to act upon it.
Someone figured out how Sam Hill was riding. Somebody bought the first Gravity Dropper seatpost. Some took a risk on the first dual-suspension trailbikes. Many riders fell over themselves figuring out Shimano SPD 737 pedals. Some will remember wrestling with tires, dripping with Stan’s sealant, or howling through the woods with their new disc brakes.
For the most part, those people knew they were investing their time and money on innovations that were not yet perfect, so they must have believed that they were participating in something greater. They were.
Once again, as the sport appears to be entering a period of intense innovation, we will have the opportunity to create, resist or invest. Two of those choices require courage.