20 Qualities of an Innovator

by Mitch Ditkoff

20 Qualities of an InnovatorThe 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. Every company worth its low-salt lunch has identified innovation as a core competency needing to be developed.

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 — the system, formula, or blueprint that will make innovation a done deal.

Innovation, unfortunately — unlike audits, re-engineering, or your high school penmanship teacher — is not given to systems, formulas, and blueprints. It is given to people — restless, inspired, fascinated people with an almost cellular need to change things for the better.

And while it can certainly be supported by systems, it can never be reduced to systems.

If you want to ignite innovation in your organization, forget about slick formulas for a minute and pay attention to what’s happening on the inside. Because that’s where innovation starts. With the innovator — the inspired individual, compelled to make a difference.

And the key to the innovator? The special blend of qualities that allows him or her to succeed while their co-workers are bitching and moaning on their way to their next unnecessary meeting?

Is it tools? Techniques? Metrics?

Sure, they’re useful. But without the user of them having the right stuff, they’re merely decoration — like having a shiny set of new jumper cables, but no car.

And so… if you are one of the self-chosen few who are willing to stop blaming your organization, the economy, your boss, your industry, the government, HR, your mother, your astrological sign, the Board, and the bored, now’s the time to start taking personal responsibility for innovating.

Now’s your chance to kick things in high gear.

Now’s the time to get the lead out — to lead the revolution wherever you happen to be working at the time and make some magic.

Yes, it begins with you. But where does it begin with you?

With awareness.

In the words of the great psychologist, Fritz Perls, “awareness cures.” Yes, it does.

Still with me?

If so, take a few minutes now to try the following exercise to get the party started.

All you need to do is rate yourself, on a scale of 1-10, for how much you manifest the following qualities in the workplace. Note which ones are your strengths — and how can you build on them. Then note which ones are your weaknesses — and how can you strengthen them.

You might even give them to your team and ask them to rate themselves. Then get together and talk about what you’ve all come up with.

And don’t forget to floss.

20 Qualities of an Innovator:

  1. Challenges the status quo
  2. Curious
  3. Self-motivated
  4. Visionary
  5. Entertains the fantastic
  6. Takes risks
  7. Peripatetic (moves about)
  8. Playful/humorous
  9. Self-accepting
  10. Flexible/adaptive
  11. Makes new connections
  12. Reflective
  13. Recognizes patterns
  14. Tolerates ambiguity
  15. Committed to learning
  16. Balances intuition and analysis
  17. Situationally collaborative
  18. Formally articulate
  19. Resilient
  20. Persevering

This posting is excerpted from It’s AHAppening, a series of five, 16-page creative thinking guidebooks.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of “Awake at the Wheel”, as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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  1. Hi, We are looking for good practical books on innovation skills profiling and management for reference purposes in our Corporate University Vector Programme, link at http://www.g-acua.org Please forward your recommendations to me. Richard

  2. Thank you Mitch, you are such an inspiration for me……

  3. Mitch-

    Great topic! Employers need to start identifying the unknown-innovators within their organizations- Just might be what the Dr. ordered for those chronically sick companies.

    Thank you for you insights.

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