Curiosity and Persistence: The CINO's dual weapons

by Moises Norena

Editor’s note: In this series, we share personal stories from business leaders in a new book by Luis Solis; Innovation Alchemists: what every CEO needs to know to hire the right Chief Innovation Officer

Why curiosity and persistence are key traits for any Chief Innovation Officer

I feel fortunate to be where I am today and often reflect about the events in my life that led me to arrive at the innovation space. I can vividly remember days in the early 90s, riding a crowded and noisy collective taxi (AKA “pesero”) on my way to architecture school in Mexico City surrounded by people hectically rushing to their jobs, and wondering what would I be doing 20 years from that day. Would going through that hassle be worth it and eventually pay off? I imagined many things, but certainly not that I would be leading the innovation team at Whirlpool Corporation in Benton Harbor, Michigan. It is very hard to say if there is one single trait that led me to get here but if I think hard it probably comes down to curiosity and persistence.

Curiosity and persistence are certainly not the only key ingredients of innovation success, but given the dynamics of corporate America they are quite essential for us “ghosts” making innovation happen. Why are curiosity and persistence so important for innovators?

Finding new opportunities requires new learning, which is better achieved when done with curiosity and persistence. We are always in urgent need of new solutions to bring into the market, but if it were that easy to find new solutions, everyone would be doing it. To find new answers we have to ask new questions; we have to look in unexpected places and sometimes not find anything. People that are eager to learn are better innovators because every innovation requires new learning. People who are not persistent will quickly give up and default to what they know. People who are not curious won’t enjoy the process.

Business conditions, priorities and people change. I’ve observed and dealt with an average cycle of a business leader of 18 to 24 months in a role. By the time an initiative is getting traction things move, people change, priorities shift. Keeping innovation moving forward requires the tenacity and patience to onboard and influence new leaders to keep the ship in the direction we intend (namely innovation strategy). Similarly, when business pressures arise, innovation resources are often taken away. Only persistent innovators will be able to go through this. Innovators have to be like water, finding their way and adapting to new conditions.

Because growing businesses require iteration and tenacity. With few exceptions, new ventures take a long time to mature, adjust and scale. We rarely hit the bull’s-eye the first time, but if we’ve found a unique insight and stay focused on it, innovators will eventually deliver against it. Growing innovative businesses requires experimentation, persistency, trial, and iteration.

Innovation is a complex field and is still developing. It is a field that challenges the traditional way of getting an education. If someone asked for my advice of how to become a good innovator I’d say: get a solid business foundation, be curious and inquisitive, observe, experiment and network.

As I sit and think about the next 20 years of my career, I know that if I continue to be persistent, I will overcome the challenges to come. I also know that if I continue to be curious, I will enjoy the ride.

image credit: wikimedia.com

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Moisés Noreña is Director of Strategic Innovation and Targeted Markets at Allstate. Moisés’ LinkedIn or @MoisesNorena​. Oct. 6, 2014: Moises Norena will be presenting “i-mentors, Catalyst for Innovation Execution” at Back End of Innovation (BEI) Las Vegas, Nevada

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