5 Traits of Innovators

5 Traits of Innovators

“Ideas don’t make people successful – it’s the other way around”, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

There is not much agreement about what makes an idea innovative, and what makes an innovative idea valuable. For example, discussions on whether the internet is a better invention than the wheel are more likely to reveal personal preferences than logical argumentation. Even Henry Ford’s famous quote on the subject – “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” – has been disputed.

There are relatively well-defined criteria for predicting who will generate creative ideas. Indeed, research shows that some people are disproportionately more likely to come up with novel and useful ideas, and that – irrespective of their field of expertise, job title and occupational background – these creative individuals tend to display a recurrent set of psychological characteristics and behaviours. As summarised in a detailed review of over 100 scientific studies, creative people tend to be better at identifying (rather than solving) problems, they are passionate and sensitive, and, above all, they tend to have a hungry mind: they are open to new experiences, nonconformist, and curious. These personality characteristics are stronger determinants of creative potential than are IQ, school performance, or motivation.

Creativity alone, however, is not sufficient for innovation: innovation also requires the development, production, and implementation of an idea. The key difference between creativity and innovation is execution: the capacity to turn an idea into a successful service, product or venture. Research highlights several key characteristics (in addition to creativity):

  1. An opportunistic mindset that helps them identify gaps in the market.
  2. Formal education or training – essential for noticing new opportunities or interpreting events as promising opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, most successful innovators are not dropout geniuses, but well-trained experts in their field.
  3. Proactivity and a high degree of persistence, which enable them to exploit the opportunities they identify. Above all, effective innovators are more driven, resilient, and energetic than others.
  4. A healthy dose of prudence. Contrary to what many people think, successful innovators are more organised, cautious, and risk-averse than the general population. (Although higher risk-taking is linked to business formation, it is not actually linked to business success).
  5. Social capital – Serial innovators tend to use their connections and networks to mobilise resources and build strong alliances, both internally and externally.

Even when people possess these five characteristics, true innovation is unlikely to occur in the absence of a meaningful mission or clear long-term vision. Indeed, vision is where entrepreneurship meets leadership: regardless of how creative, opportunistic, or proactive you are, the ability to propel others toward innovation is a critical feature of successful innovation. Without it, you can’t attract the right talent, build and empower teams, or ensure that you remain innovative even after attaining success.

Do you agree with these 5 characteristics of innovators?

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