So, we want people to innovate. Can anyone do it? Are some better than others? Who excels at it? Who is not so good? What are the characteristics and attributes of a ‘good’ innovator?
We think that innovation is inherently collaborative. So, perhaps the answer to the primary question isn’t
a list of personal characteristics and attributes of the super-innovator but instead it’s a set of group characteristics? If so, I’m not so sure that makes the question any easier, as group dynamics and ‘personalities’ of crowds can be just as difficult to understand and predict as individuals. As a first step towards answering this question, I think it’s worth considering what bonds a group together and allows it to exist and function – and ultimately, innovate – in the first place?
Trust, common purpose, communication, listening, respect are all words that spring to mind when thinking about successfully functioning groups that have any kind of longevity and aren’t transient in nature. So perhaps ‘good innovators’ are simply those individuals who can help the group to develop these attributes and encourage these sorts of behaviours to thrive within the group?
“So the group exists. What makes it able to innovate? What about all of the other skills that are required such as creativity?”
I would suggest that all of the other attributes and qualities that are required for successful innovation are derived from the group diversity. It’s the different perspectives, skills, interests and experiences of individuals that is key. As long as individuals are conducive to the existence and functioning of the group and as long as the group is diverse enough, it’s the group that has the potential to be ‘a good innovator’.
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I think you are asking the wrong question. It shouldn’t be what makes a good innovator (with the tacit assumption that there are good and bad innovators), but rather, what makes a good INNOVATION PROCESS, with the tacit assumption that most people can be good innovators given the right process.
Perhaps the best example of this is Toyota. In addition to being the most successful car maker, Toyota regularly wins kudos in surveys of innovative companies. Such as the Business Week/BCG Most Innovative Companies (#3) and the Booz & Co Innovation 1,000 (#1). It wins kudos not for its products, innovative as they are, but for its processes.
Toyota estimates that it has made 20 million small innovations (through its Kaizen process) in the last 40 years. But Toyota doesn’t put this down to the quality of its staff, instead it puts it down to the quality of its innovation processes and its staff training.
We must get past this dead-end of thinking about innovation in terms of innovators (or more commonly, in terms of inventors) and focus on what really matters: innovation processes.
I tend to agree with Graham, but its not only the process that is a stimulant to effective engagement of innovation, but an environment conduicive to innovation in its essence.
So much of business/commercial environments are set up to work against the flow of real innovation, that we lose out on the real passion and ability to take risk on ideas.
For so long, my ideas have been repressed by structured linear management, usually of the financial kind. Now finally, my mind is open and set free from those chains. Its exciting again. The right environment is a stumulant, a repressive, risk-averse environment is a sleeping pill.
The UK has a great bank of talent, but not a great bank of true leaders to inspire us out of times when we are not at War.
Thanks for your comments, there are various aspects where I agree with you.
The question was actually one that we were asked very recently (word for word) which prompted my post. I think you’re right in the sense that this isn’t the right, or rather, the only question that should be asked when trying to work out how to produce ‘successful innovations’. I don’t think that all the focus should stay on the individual but I also don’t think that the focus should shift towards the process and environment either (which as you mentioned, are both also extremely important). It’s a balance between all of these things which makes things work out. For example, I don’t think success will result from the perfect group of people following a bad process or the wrong group of people trying to follow a good process in an un-fit environment.
It’s this delicate balance that makes ‘innovation’ a difficult thing to do well.