Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to tell if you are an innovator

In a world of celebrity driven Twitter, "reality" shows and always on news, Andy Warhol was only partially right.  We'll all be famous for 15 minutes.  Unfortunately some people seem to get their 15 minutes over and over again for all the wrong reasons.  Luckily for us, however, most innovators toil away from the spotlight.  In fact many people who are innovators don't realize who and what they are.

Innovators are born and made.  Innovators are people who have good ideas or sometimes just good insights.  Innovators are people who aren't happy with the status quo, and are willing to do something about it.  Herewith, seven factors that will tell you whether or not you are an innovator.  Take the assessment, but know this:  anyone can be an innovator.  Read on and I'll tell you how.


  1. Think a lot about the future.  They wonder not about the next calamity, but what the future will be like and how they can impact the future.  They wonder about emerging trends.  They wonder what consumers will want next.  Safety and security in today's world doesn't interest them.  They are eager for what's next.
  2. Aren't satisfied with the status quo.  They are constantly trying to improve things - even things that don't seem to be broken.  They want to know how to improve things, eliminate obstacles.  As Shaw said, all progress is due to the unreasonable man, since reasonable people accept shortcomings.
  3. Are empathetic.  Innovators can get into other people's lives and shoes.  They can virtually walk a mile in your moccasins.  This doesn't necessarily mean they are "nice", just able to understand issues and challenges better than the average joe.  
  4. Are playful, in the best sense.  By this I mean they are open to new experiences, are willing to test and prototype, and open to discovery.
  5. Are stubborn and driven.  If innovators don't have a stubborn streak, then their ideas won't progress, because many people will resist even good ideas initially.  It's not easy advocating for a new idea.  Innovators have to be committed to their ideas.
  6. Are open to exchange of insights and ideas.  While stubborn and driven, they understand that the best ideas are emergent and based on the kernal of good insights and ideas from a broad range of settings.  They are willing to listen, to absorb and to incorporate inputs from a wide variety of sources.
  7. Want to solve real problems.  The difference between science fiction and innovation is that while innovators joke about jet backpacks, they want to solve real needs and offer real solutions.  Some of those may be incremental in nature - the next product release and some may be disruptive - the next jet backpack.  But only if the jet backpack solves a real, important, relevant need and is viable and adoptable.
So, how did you do?  If the profile I've described feels right, you have all the proclivity to become an excellent innovator.  Don't think you aren't creative enough or don't have enough time or energy.  If this profile sounds like you, get moving.  You are an innovator whether you like it or not.

If this doesn't sound like you, but you do want to innovate, the great news is this: nothing in this list can't be learned.  These are a series of behaviors and perspectives that anyone can adopt.  Stop telling yourself you aren't innovative.  You weren't born with the gene, you build it from your experiences, interests and perspectives.  Just exercise your attitude and become more open to the possibilities.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 9:01 AM


Blogger CEO Osolind said...

Provocative post, Jeffrey. You've created an idealistic and optimistic checklist - but I can name at least ten innovators top of mind who don't fit all these qualities. Empathy and openness, for instance, are rarely words used to define Steve Jobs or Zuckerberg or John Mackey. And if we're gonna generalize, there are a few characteristics noticeably ABSENT from your list such as: "disciplined," "observant," "experimental," "curious," and "opportunistic."

As always, good reading!

7:56 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

I would agree with the addition of curiosity and optimism. But, there is some ability that I haven't put my finger on yet - an ability to interpret and synthesize inputs into a working vision. All the curiosity, insight, experimentation, multidisciplinary collaboration and trend data in the hands of a non-innovator is worthless. I am reminded of the quote attributed to Henry Fold - “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
-- Sean

3:57 PM  

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