Being an expert navigator is the key to innovation success

Whenever Swiss explorer Sarah Marquis tells people about her newest expedition, she gets the same reaction: “You’re crazy!” If she listened to these people, she’d cease to explore at all.

Marquis is an adventurer who’s spent much of her adult life trekking solo through some of the world’s most forbidding regions, from deserts to jungles to mountain ranges, living off the land and blazing her own trails. In 2014, she was named Adventurer of the Year by the National Geographic Society. Her experiences underline the importance of navigation when venturing into the unknown.

She emphasizes that successful navigation starts with preparation. For a three-month expedition, Marquis typically spends two years learning about the area and planning the route and logistics, adding intense workouts during the second year. She also has to reach out to potential sponsors and supporters. And that means crafting an engaging story about the forthcoming journey.

Much of what Marquis needs to do to prepare is analogous to what innovators should do when trying to bring their ideas to life or challenge the status quo. For their ideas to survive, they also must anticipate the likely threats, asking themselves: What “language” do people speak in this organization or sector, and do I understand them? What historical tensions may I encounter? What gear will I need to take? Where will I find additional resources along the way? What dangers should I take into account?

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