Five Digital Profiles of Innovators

Organizations need to invest in the cultivation of capacity for innovation and recognize innovators with varying talent and strengths.

Innovation is about the future, without it, you lose sight of tomorrow. Innovation is an exceptional, exclusive, and realistic idea that separates you from others without a second thought. Innovation can happen anywhere in the organization and its ecosystem.

Digital innovation has a broader spectrum, hybrid nature, and deep context. You have to systematically develop the business competency to execute it successfully, and that is something you do not accomplish overnight. Especially breakthroughs or transformational innovations are not something everyone can accomplish.

More often than not, innovation is teamwork, and the different strengths and complementary skills of innovators can help to develop the collective innovation capacity of the business, and improve the overall innovation success rate. Therefore, digital innovators are in strong demand. Being innovative is simply about thinking and doing things differently. Do innovators belong to a rare breed or are they among us and within us?

Here are five digital profiles of innovators.

1: Idea Creator

Creativity is an innate process to generate ideas. Innovation is about how to transform novel ideas to achieve their business value. Creativity is the high-level thinking which relates to intelligence, empathy, idealism, imagination, profound observation, communication skills, process understanding, cultural empathy, and interdisciplinary knowledge. The creative mind has a better ability to identify patterns, make unusual dots connections, and has the tendency to constantly question the status quo. Creativity is the “actual thinking” which is a conscious or subconscious effort to reorganize your memories and integrate newly acquired knowledge to trigger fresh ideas.

The conscious effort employs and tries to expand one’s attention span to stay focused on the wide range of meanings in order to reconcile them into a coherent whole. Thus, spotting and scoring individuals as innovation creators needs to focus on individual capabilities and potential to innovate. The indicators to assess the intrinsic capacity of the individual as an innovator include such as interdisciplinary knowledge and skills, learning plasticity (fast learning), and knowledge synthesis capability, etc.

2: Innovation Translator

The goal of managing innovation is to transform novel ideas and achieve its commercial value. From the business management perspective, innovation often needs cross-functional communication and collaboration. Either from innovation management or general management perspective, the mistake that most organizations make in this regard is about failing to translate the high-level language of innovation strategy into the professional language of the various functional capacity and staff specialty.

Thus, innovation translator becomes the critical role to ensure the organization can create ideas as well as manage those ideas to achieve the business value through effective communication and cohesive processes. Innovation communication gaps are caused by cognitive differences, ambiguous processes or management bottlenecks. In the complex businesses today, especially those strictly hierarchical large organizations with bureaucratic culture, there are too many power players, functional or process silos which cause communication bottlenecks and create gaps in innovation flow.

Innovation translators are those who have the interdisciplinary knowledge, diplomatic skills and communication fluency to push the ideas forward and advocate innovation relentlessly.

3: Innovation Stabilizer

Innovation shouldn’t be serendipity. It is about figuring out the better ways to do things. Innovation will happen when people are given free space to be creative without poor leadership or overly rigid structure to hold them back. To avoid innovation fatigue or serendipitous perception about innovation, the innovation stabilizer plays an important role in conducting “Systematic Innovation.”

Innovation stabilizers are innovation leaders or professionals who can provide the appropriately structured framework and a set of practical tools which people can use to create and implement ideas, or improve products, processes, and services that will deliver new value to customers. Leveraging tailored tools in effective innovation management is important to improve its success rate. Innovation Management System includes policies, structures, and programs that innovation managers can leverage to drive innovations. Remove any of the three, you’re liable to fail. True innovation and sustainability go hand in hand.

Innovators should always have the greater vision in mind and strive to return sustainable development and growth back to the business or society they are working for.

4: Innovation Navigator

Due to the increasing pace of changes, innovation can happen anywhere across the organization and its ecosystem. Digital innovation has a broader spectrum and hybrid nature; it is an incremental improvement- radical innovation continuum. There are hard innovations such as products or services innovation, business model or process innovation; and soft innovations such as leadership, communication or culture innovation.

In dynamic digital business environments, there must be the capacity to respond to emerging opportunities and to create new opportunities. The digital era opens the new chapter of innovation. Innovation can happen everywhere with a different twist such as breakthrough innovation, evolutionary innovation, and incremental innovation because technology is changing constantly.

Generally speaking, all businesses should have a handful of “bets” in the breakthrough category. Thus, innovation navigators are the critical role to envision the future trends and capture potential innovation opportunities. The evolution of innovation only exists in the more open environments that create unique business insights, take advantage of all sources of creativity in a more open way and leap forward innovation management to the next level of maturity. Through great navigation, a healthy innovation portfolio can be integrated with the annual strategic planning process and financial investment model. The size and mix of the innovation portfolio depend on the business circumstances, strategic objectives and severity of external challenges or changes.

When looking at today’s hyper connected, over complex, and interdependent digital organizations, the most powerful innovation navigation system involves tapping the collective perspectives and insights of those who make up and know intimately their parts of the business ecosystem.

5: Innovation Evaluator

Innovation becomes simply creating value by solving simple or complex problems. From a business management perspective, without a profit motive, innovation doesn’t work. Thus, measuring innovation becomes one of the significant tasks to manage innovation.

The problem for innovation measurement is often that the innovation initiative is not well defined. Without well-defined goals, you won’t have the effective plan and enough time to generate profitable business results. The important work for innovation evaluators is how to select the right set of metrics to measure innovation management effectiveness and efficiency. The measures should be oriented to justify innovations the organization needs. Better look at what the results were prior to implementing the innovation and after. Sometimes it takes much longer time for a new innovation drive to produce measures.

It is also useful to evaluate innovation processes which demonstrate the growth capability of the organization to deliver more innovation results with business impact in the future.

Innovation is the means to the end; it should either benefit your customers or employees. Organizations need to invest in the cultivation of capacity for innovation and recognize innovators with varying strengths. Make innovation benefit the widest possible audience within your organization and our society.

By Pearl Zhu

About the author

Pearl Zhu is an innovative “Corporate Global Executive” with more than twenty-one years of technical and business working experience in strategic planning, Information Technology, software development, e-commerce and international trading, etc. She holds a master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Southern California, and she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15+ years. She is the author of the Digital Master book series and the Future of CIO blog.

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