This post is an excerpt from the upcoming Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We Stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Watch this space for details on its release.

Many of us resist exercising our imagination, and even more of us don’t trust our imagination enough to act on it. Yet it’s by exploring our ideas and gathering feedback that we’re able to improve them…and it’s not just our imagination that needs frequent testing.

When we look to knowledge for ideas, the next step is usually to simply apply what we know. If we didn’t already think it would work, we wouldn’t consider it knowledge, right? We sometimes do the same thing with our imagination; we fall in love with an idea and lose our skepticism about it. The downside should be obvious. When we’re in a dynamic environment, both knowledge and imagination need to be treated with caution.  Whichever we rely on, we still need to maintain a mindset of exploration. We should always want to know whether some idea (new or old) will work, rather than assume that it will.

Once we recognize that there’s uncertainty in any action we take, courage has a whole new significance…and so does humility. The paradox is that we need to muster the courage to act despite our uncertainties, and we need to have the humility to be prepared for failure. This is the contradiction that skilled innovators have mastered and it’s not a balancing act; it’s being fully courageous and humble at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Someone watching us might not be able to tell when we’re exploring our ideas and when we’re applying them, because the difference is primarily inside our heads. It’s a difference in how we’re processing things, a difference in mindset.

Choosing to explore and experiment reveals the true value of setting goals and explains why they sometimes seem to almost magically produce success. It’s only when we define our desired outcomes that we can distinguish success from failure, so we know whether our ideas are working or not. Goals position us to make the course corrections and improvisations that increase our chances of success and the impact we have. It’s not just about being persistent; we can be persistently wrong. (It’s called stubborn.) It’s about considering multiple options. Despite what we’ve all been told, persistence rarely leads to success…unless it’s coupled with experimentation.

Innovation is not for the faint of heart. It requires that we step up to challenges. It’s putting our ideas into action, not because we’re certain they’ll work, but because that’s the only way to find out. Skilled innovators take action and they do that to explore their ideas rather than simply apply them. It’s about being willing to experiment and fail because we can often learn as much or more from the failures as from the successes.

We need to choose to explore rather then simply apply.