Innovation is a hot topic and there is much talk of encouraging ideation in the workplace, using disruptive innovation to outsmart the competition and implementing an open innovation strategy.
These are all important strands of innovation but what about the people themselves? A lot of discussion is given to innovation strategies, yet it is the people behind these strategies that need to be the driving force. Innovation will struggle to thrive in your organisation unless employees have the necessary skills and resources to innovate.
So what skills does a successful innovator have?
The world’s most famous innovators, such as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Apple founder Steve Jobs, exhibit a diverse range of skills that we can all learn from. Revolving primarily around qualities of openness and entrepreneurialism, we have pinpointed the eight key skills that we believe make a successful innovator.
Acutely aware of their surroundings, innovators are able to gain valuable insights simply by being tuned into their environment. Their natural affinity to observe and absorb is not just limited to an office space. A commitment to being observant at all times can reap significant value, as outside of the office is when you are more likely to encounter consumers, allowing you to note behavioral shifts and current trends in a real-world setting.
Successful innovators are inherently inquisitive. Always wondering and questioning, this curiosity fuels discovery and drives learning. Innovators ask questions to understand motives, to query current processes and to generate new perspectives. They are not afraid to tackle the ‘what if’ questions and delight in bringing new approaches to difficult problems that need solving. Closely linked to creativity, an insatiable curiosity allows innovators to be open-minded and receptive to new and potentially risky concepts.
“I think a very intense curiosity is key [for innovation].” — Tim Cook, Apple CEO
The best innovators are always well-connected. Their natural curiosity and tendency to ask questions makes them good conversation starters and excellent listeners – two key qualities for networking. The best networks have wide-ranging individuals from a range of backgrounds and industries. This diversity exposes innovators to a myriad of different approaches and ways of thinking, helping them to keep an open mind and widen their knowledge pool. With an extensive network of talented people, innovators can leverage a whole variety of new ideas and opportunities.
Envisaging the world as a laboratory, innovators see opportunities to experiment everywhere and have an inclination towards the disruptive. They are constantly trying and testing new ideas, with no concern for sticking to the status quo. It is this experimental approach that can lead to unexpected discoveries, opening doors to new opportunities and journeys not previously considered. Innovators understand that experiments are unlikely to bring immediate success, but nevertheless recognize the long-term benefits and growth potential.
“Experiments are key to innovation because they rarely turn out as you expect and you learn so much.” — Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO & Founder
- Openness to failure
Closely linked to their experimental skills, innovators are not afraid to fail and have an impressive willingness to take risks. Although success is the ultimate end-goal, innovators understand that sometimes it takes a few rounds of failure to get there and that failure itself has a value. Each mistake is a lesson learnt. Here the focus is more on opportunity than instability — knowing that reward cannot exist without risk, innovators tend to have more courage to take a calculated leap of faith.
- Putting the customer at the center
Placing so much emphasis on experimentation runs the risk of it being used as an excuse for reckless trial-and-error. Guide the process by putting the customer at the center of all innovation decisions, as it will keep the strategy on track and in line with business objectives. Always keeping the consumer in mind helps innovators to make smarter investment decisions and ensures that customers will benefit from R&D.
- Empowering leadership
The best innovators are those who empower other employees and team members to adopt a creative and inquisitive approach to their work. Innovation should be a shared endeavor, which is why great leadership is so important. Leaders should create a safe space in which employees can experiment, fail and learn, whilst inspiring and motivating them. Innovators must also act as facilitators, creating an environment in which individuals and teams can fully engage with the innovation process.
As innovation is disruptive by nature, innovators are bound to face a considerable amount of resistance. Consequently, a key skill for a successful innovator is persistence and relentless determination. Combine this with a genuine enthusiasm that is irresistibly infectious and it is far more likely that your ideas will gain traction in the workplace. Qualities of flexibility also complement persistence, as innovators must demonstrate a willingness to adapt and work in an agile manner throughout a problem-solving process.
Being a successful innovator does not come naturally to everyone. Nevertheless, with a commitment to the skills listed above and unfaltering enthusiasm, anyone can revamp their innovation capabilities. Innovators are great learners — in being persistently observant, inquisitive and well-connected, the opportunities for new ideas and knowledge acquisition are endless.