The 10 Characteristics of Great Innovators

10 Qualities of Great InnovatorsAre you an innovator? Many people have a pretty narrow definition of an innovator. They assume that if they don’t invent things and hold multiple patents, they aren’t very innovative. In reality, many inventors don’t have patents or products. Some innovators generate ideas, others bring those ideas to reality, while still others are advocates, leaders, and champions of great ideas. When you think of it this way, you might realize you’re innovative after all.

So what is an innovator?

An innovator is someone who brings new value to the world around them. It could be a new product, an improved way of getting something done. It could be in small or large forms, but (in general) it relates to introducing some form of significant positive change. Seeing an opportunities and acting on them.

No matter the role, great innovators share some qualities. If you recognize these qualities in yourself, you may need to give yourself more credit! If you’re looking to become a great innovator, these are the qualities to develop.

Innovators Value Innovation

This might seem obvious, but it’s not. Many organizations value stability and consistency more than innovation and change. Innovators realize that innovation is the only way to remain truly competitive, and they share that feeling with others. As a result, they value innovation and help others to do the same.

Encouragement of Risk Taking 

Innovators realize that taking risks is part of making great discoveries and advancing society. Great innovators encourage risk taking in others. In fact, 80% of great innovators encourage employees to be curious, and 76% systematically encourage risk-taking. A culture of risk-taking means encouraging new ideas and being gentle with failure, seeing it as an opportunity to learn rather than an occasion of punishment.

Innovators Teach Others 

Great innovators realize that new ideas and implementation can’t end with them. They bring others along on the journey, training them how to think in new ways. In this way, they build entire teams of forward-thinkers. When innovation best practices and mindsets are shared widely, entire industries can benefit.

Start Somewhere 

Too many people feel like they can’t move forward with an idea until they are sure that it’s the absolute best. For some, this is one of the most difficult barriers to innovation to overcome. Great innovators realize that they won’t know what ideas are great until they try them. In fact, they’re not afraid of bad ideas because they know that good ideas are usually close behind! To become an innovator, begin with the idea you have and be open to learning more.

Innovators Look for Patterns Everywhere 

Successful innovation managers are always on the lookout for analogous solutions.  That is, solutions that exist in one industry that may help them with theirs. A perfect example is skis. A ski company wanted to reduce the vibration in skis as skiers turned at high speeds. They found an analogous solution in the music industry and appropriated technology used to stabilize violins to reduce the ski’s vibrations. Look for ideas everywhere!

Staying Positive 

As an innovator, you have to keep a good attitude. You can’t assume that something won’t work simply because it hasn’t been done that way before. Innovators realize that if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always gotten. Stay positive and you’ll see new ideas work out in surprising ways!

Innovators Incentivize Innovation 

Just like innovators take others under their wing to teach them how to innovate, they also incentivize those who are willing to innovate. You might assume every organization does this, but the reality is many companies will discourage or even punish those who try to suggest doing things in a new way. Instead, build incentive programs that encourage new ideas!

Being a Team Player 

The stereotype of an innovator as a trouble-maker that no one enjoys working with is false. A great innovator realizes that a team is involved, and does his or her best to be a team player. Rather than being difficult mavericks, great innovators are team players who bring others along with them on implementing new ideas.

Innovators Connect and Collaborate 

In the Renaissance, often viewed as the peak of innovation in Western society, most people worked alone. Less than 10% of the innovation during the Renaissance was networked.  Whereas now, a majority of breakthroughs happen in collaborative environments. Expect to work with others to create breakthroughs.

Innovators Value a Culture of Innovation 

As an innovator, you realize that you can’t “go it alone” because you want and need the innovation and new ideas to go beyond your department and direct influence. Great innovators help create a culture of innovation in their whole organization so that innovation has a greater reach. Having a culture of innovation benefits not only an organization, but the industry and even society as a whole.

Being an innovator means a lot more than being Benjamin Franklin or a mad scientist. Day to day, great innovators encourage risk-taking, teach others, collaborate and build teams, and much more. Do you see yourself as an innovator now? Do you want to be?

So do you know how to be an innovator?

Start by learning. Just being curious can lead to new opportunities and new ways of doing things. Next, start to make suggestions to those around you. Innovators rarely deliver on their ideas by themselves. And, of course, once you’ve shared an idea, you’re that much more likely to follow up on it. For more inspiration, check out these 5 Ted Talks to Spur Innovation.

Here’s an infographic that you can reference as you continue on this journey.

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