Becoming a World-Class Innovator

A common misconception today is that innovators are innately creative people. Specifically, many people think that innovators are born with intuitive skills and views of the world that differsfrom the rest of the population. This is simply not true. Innovators aren’t born, they’re made. But we can learn from a few key attributes that leading innovators share.

1.Childlike Wonder

Young children ask a thousand questions – and the reason they do this is because they don’t think we’re really listening. When they decide that we’ve really listened and understood, they’ll stop asking certain questions and move onto different ones. Strong innovators share this characteristic in that they continually question the world around them, and invite others to help them answer these questions.

Many innovators I’ve spoken with have a shared childhood experience. As they grew up, adults in their lives fed their curiosity and engaged them in ways that led them to ask provocative questions. They exposed them to people who look, act and think differently. Many had the experience of living in a different country. They had the chance to see things differently and create.

Question your world and engage in experiences that allow you to further develop.

While some of you may not have experienced this kind of encouragement growing up, you can still give yourself the time and the space to question your world and engage in experiences that allow you to further develop as an innovator.

2.Try and Try Again

Around the world, the best innovators rapidly experiment to create surprising new solutions. And they will try and try again to make something work, iteration after iteration.

Even some of the brightest minds – those of venture capitalists – are right only fifteen percent of the time. Eighty-five percent of the ideas that they vet and decide to fund end up failing. Accepting and embracing failure is part of the process. In fact, while success is celebrated, failures are also embraced, especially the ability to recognize and stymie failure early.

Innovators, when taking their idea forward, will eventually have a “stepping off the ledge” moment. After they’ve gone through many product revisions, the time comes to push the button. And the hundreds or even thousands of experiments done to find the right solution give a person the confidence to take the leap.

“Leverage the power of experimentation”

So what do innovators do when standing at the edge of a launch? They leverage the power of experimentation before the fearful step into the unknown is taken—and rely on its power over and over as the innovation takes on a life of its own to become a fully-fledged product or service offering.

3. Don’t Just Dream, Dream Big

Another differentiator among innovators is that they are not afraid to dream, and they dream big.

Richard Branson has had a lifelong love affair with space exploration, and his personal quest started early. He had thousands of questions about space, which he recorded in journals, and captured observations and conversations he had with any and every individual with relevant inputs over the years. The path from governmental to commercial space travel made it’s greatest leap with the X Prize, which paved the way for Virgin Galactic to move from Branson’s boyhood dream to an adult reality.

Do you dream as big as space? To become a true innovator, you have to not only learn how to create, but must learn to dream big.

“Innovation is the key to business success”

In today’s economy, innovation is the key to business success. You can foster innovation in yourself, and your team by creating an environment where questioning is encouraged, failure becomes success, and dreams grow bigger than the sky.

By Hal Gregersen

About the Author


Hal Gregersen (PhD, University of California, Irvine) is co-creators of Innovator’s Accelerator, a revolutionary new digital program that teaches teams the innovation skills they need to transform organizations.Hal is also the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank Chaired Professor of Innovation and Leadership at INSEAD and founder of the 4.24 project, dedicated to rekindling the provocative power of asking the right questions in adults to ultimately cultivate and sharpen the curiosity of the world’s children. His trilogy of books, “The Innovator’s DNA,” “Leading Strategic Change” and “Global Explorers,” reflect a lifelong commitment to developing leaders who make a difference. He serves as a board member at Pharmascience and regularly delivers inspirational keynote speeches on innovation and change throughout the world.

Photo: sofa with drawing concept from shutterstock.com

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