The Five Characteristics of Successful Innovators

by Jörgen Eriksson on October 27, 2013

There is not much agreement about what makes an idea innovative, and what makes an innovative idea valuable. We have written about these controversies before on this blog. What we do know is that creativity, knowledge and sound judgment are key components in coming up with innovative ideas.

However creativity alone is not sufficient. Innovation also requires the development, production, and implementation of the new ideas. The key difference between creativity and innovation is execution, the capacity to turn an idea into a successful implementation of a service, product or venture.

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Last week, Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic,  Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, published an interesting article on Harvard Business Reviews blog site where he argues that ideas don’t make people successful, it is the other way around. He also says that there is no point in just hoping for a breakthrough idea, what matters is the ability to generate many ideas, discover the right opportunities to develop them, and act with drive and dedication to achieve meaningful goals.

Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic quotes research that highlights five key characteristics o successful innovators (in addition to creativity):

  1. An opportunistic mindset that helps innovators identify gaps in the market. Opportunities are at the heart of entrepreneurship and innovation, and some people are much more alert to them than others. He claims this is consistent with the higher rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among business founders.
  2. Formal education or training, which are essential for noticing new opportunities or interpreting events as promising opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, most successful innovators are not dropout geniuses, but well-trained experts in their field.
  3. Proactivity and a high degree of persistence, which enable innovators to exploit the opportunities they identify. Above all, they effective innovators are more driven, resilient, and energetic than their counterparts.
  4. A healthy dose of prudence. Contrary to what many people think, successful innovators are more organized, cautious, and risk-averse than the general population. Although higher risk-taking is linked to business formation, it is not actually linked to business success.
  5. Social capital, which they rely on throughout the entrepreneurial process. Serial innovators tend to use their connections and networks to mobilize resources and build strong alliances, both internally and externally. Popular accounts of entrepreneurship tend to glorify innovators as independent spirits and individualistic geniuses, but innovation is always the product of teams. Entrepreneurial people tend to have higher EQ, which enables them to sell their ideas and strategy to others, and communicate the core mission to the team.

Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic concludes that even when people possess creativity and these five characteristics, true innovation is unlikely to occur in the absence of a meaningful mission or clear long-term vision. He writes; “vision is where entrepreneurship meets leadership: regardless of how creative, opportunistic, or proactive you are, the ability to propel others toward innovation is a critical feature of successful innovation. Without it, you can’t attract the right talent, build and empower teams, or ensure that you remain innovative even after attaining success.”

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