"Qualities of an Innovator
By Mitchell Ditkoff
The word "innovate"
can be traced all the way back to 1440. It comes from the Middle French
word "innovacyon" meaning "renewal" or "new way
of doing things." Exactly what innovations actually happened in 1440
(rounder oxcart wheels?) is anybody's guess, but whatever they were, it's
likely they improved the quality of life for more than a few people.
These days, the "innovation thing" is something of a no-brainer.
Indeed, it seems that any company worth its low-salt lunch has identified
innovation as a core competency worth developing. Who in their right mind
(or is it right brain?) can deny the value of improving things? Isn't
this what human beings -- those grand inventors of the microchip and the
chocolate chip -- are supposed to do?
True. But who has time?
And so begins the search for the magic pill.
Unfortunately, innovation, unlike audits or reengineering, is not given
to formulas. It is given to people -- restless, inspired, fascinated individuals
with an almost cellular need for change. And while it can be supported
by systems, it can never be reduced to systems. "Innovation,"
as Tom Peters so aptly put it, "is a messy business."
If you want to spark innovation, forget about slick formulas for a minute
and pay attention to what's happening on the inside. Because that's where
it starts. With the innovator -- the inspired individual who sees a better
way and goes for it. And the key to the innovator? The special blend of
inner qualities that allows him or her to succeed when others have long
since gone home. Tools? Techniques? Five-step models? Sure, they're useful.
But, without the user of them having the right stuff, they're merely decoration
-- not unlike having a new set of jumper cables, but no car.
So ... if you are one of the self-chosen few willing to stop blaming your
organization and start taking personal responsibility for innovating,
here's a list of qualities that describe innovators:
Challenges status quo -- dissatisfied with current reality, questions
authority and routine and confronts assumptions.
Curious -- actively explores the environment, investigates new
possibilities, and honors the sense of awe and wonder.
Self-motivated -- responds to deep inner needs, proactively initiates
new projects, intrinsically rewarded for efforts.
Visionary -- highly imaginative, maintains a future orientation,
thinks in mental pictures.
Entertains the fantastic -- conjures outrageous scenarios, sees
possibilities within the seemingly impossible, honors dreams and daydreams.
Takes risks -- goes beyond the comfort zone, experimental and non-
conform- ing, courageously willing to "fail."
Peripatetic -- changes work environments as needed; wanders, walks
or travels to inspire fresh thinking; given to movement and interaction.
Playful/humorous -- appreciates incongruities and surprise, able
to appear foolish and child-like, laughs easily and often.
Self-accepting -- withholds compulsive criticism of their own ideas,
understands "perfection is the enemy of the good," unattached
to "looking good" in the eyes of others.
Flexible/adaptive -- open to serendipity and change, able to adjust
"game plan" as needed, entertains multiple ideas and solutions.
Makes new connections -- sees relationships between seemingly disconnected
elements, synthesizes odd combinations, distills unusual ideas down to
their underlying principles.
Reflective -- incubates on problems and challenges; seeks out states
of immersion; ponders, muses and contemplats.
Recognizes (and re-cognizes) patterns -- perceptive and discriminating,
notices organizing principles and trends, sees (and challenges) the "Big
Tolerates ambiguity -- comfortable with chaos, able to entertain
paradox, doesn't settle for the first "right idea."
Committed to learning -- continually seeks knowledge, synthesizes
new input quickly, balances information gathering and action.
Balances intuition and analysis -- alternates between divergent
and convergent thinking; entertains hunches before analyzing them; trusts
their gut, uses their head.
Situationally collaborative -- balances rugged individualism with
political savvy, open to coaching and support, rallies organizational
support as needed.
Formally articulate -- communicates ideas effectively, translates
abstract concepts into meaningful language, creates prototypes with ease.
Resilient -- bounces back from disappointment, learns quickly from
feedback, willing to "try, try again."
Persevering -- hardworking and persistent, champions new ideas
with tenacity, committed to follow-through and bottom-line results.
Some of these traits may be easy for you while others are more difficult.
That's normal ... even if you weren't "born" with some of these
traits, you can develop them. Perhaps even more important, you can help
create an environment where these traits can flourish.
Reprinted with permission from "Free the Genie" series, a set
of 12 creative thinking booklets, by Mitchell Ditkoff, President, Idea
Champions. For more information, call 914-679-1066, or e-mail email@example.com and Phone: 845.679.1066