Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Characteristics of innovators

I was speaking with several clients and prospects about what makes a person a good leader of an innovation initiative. Clearly, they need to be good communicators and understand the corporate culture, and they need to inspire the team to work together effectively. However, I think there are several characteristics that make a really great innovation leader:

- they have a vision or dream that they want to realize
- they aren't afraid to fail to achieve that vision
- they aren't willing to be distracted from that vision

Begins to sound a bit like a zealot or an evangelist, doesn't it? In many organizations, even innovative ones, sometimes the innovation team needs to have not only a belief in its ideas, but some zeal for the ideas, since not everyone else shares your perspective or vision.

Also, a good innovation leader is sticky. People and ideas tend to clump to the leader because of his vision, and his or her ability to convince others that the ideas they are working on are important and they can be successful. Too often we half-heartedly join a team but have little to gain or lose if the idea succeeds or fails. Cortez burned his boats for a reason when he landed in the New World. Perhaps a little more boat burning is in order in your business?

Finally, a person who wants to lead innovative initiatives must have the ability to persevere. He or she must be able to accept setbacks and continue to press forward. The idea or outcome is what is important, not the little successes or failures along the way. Too often we can be turned aside but small challenges or roadblocks and we give up too easily on our vision. How many times has someone in your organization looked at a new product or service and said - we thought of that first - but allowed some issue or challenge to get in the way of realizing the vision?

Innovative leaders need to be savvy about the culture and understand how to influence and change the culture of the organization they work within, usually by asking questions and begging forgiveness rather than seeking permission. They've got to know when and where they can violate the rules, and when they MUST ask for the ability to color outside the lines.

Innovative leaders are an interesting combination of the consumate inside who has not lost their sense of wonder and is more interested in the success of the idea than the short term gain or loss of prestige. These leaders are people who inspire others to identify new solutions and get onboard with their visions. They are people who constantly say "why not, and why not us?" when others say, why bother?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 2:32 PM

5 Comments:

Anonymous Corey Julihn - Innovation - CE Studios said...

I know you are talking about an innovation leader, but I think all too often people assume they cannot innovate. Not everyone knows how to lead innovation or has all the traits that aid in the innovation process; however, I think that innovation is accomplished through all types of people.

Certain traits and abilities are useful for different aspects of the innovation process. For example often a new innovation requires change. Therefore qualities that help in change management like communication and identifying points of contention are helpful.

However, when it comes down to it, innovation is informed and aided by all types of people.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Filipe Alves Ferreira said...

Dear Jeffrey,
Thank you by your blog.You are right. 100%. 360/360.
Spheric vision.
Best regards/

1:06 PM  
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