11 ways to think like an innovator

11 ways to think like an innovator

Have you ever wondered what makes an innovator – an innovator? Here are the 11 key mindsets of an innovator when developing a product or service that will disrupt the industry.

Thirteen innovation managers were interviewed from industries across healthcare, business services, chemical, finance, IT and real estate. The organisations they work in are multinationals with innovative initiatives under way in all or parts of the organisation. Their companies are among the most innovative within their industry. Here are the 11 ways they think like an innovator:

1. Be Empathetic 

Being empathetic towards people’s needs means you take into consideration the needs of the customer/user. It requires observation, interaction with and understanding of the problems people have, and examining the needs, dreams and behaviours of the people who whom a solution is sought.

Recently, some of the members of our team – quite senior members – went down and spent a day with our tenants. They actually went and sat in their space, interacted with their staff, talked about what they do every day, what their challenges are, how do you find dealing with our business? That’s not something that we would have really done 18 months ago. (Julie)

They had conducted a massive study about millionaires in Russia buying cars and the buyers of the cars said: ‘Yeah, it’s great to buy these cars, it’s really fun and so on, but who of your idiot engineers had the idea to put a massage seat for my driver?’ Because at that time you couldn’t buy a massage seat in the back. And in Russia everyone’s sitting in the back – you have a driver. (Dave)

2. Be Collaborative

Collaboration and knowledge sharing are key activities that promote rapid problem solving and the development of new ideas. Innovation managers are aware of the impact that diverse teams can bring to the process, so they encourage collaboration beyond their immediate team, to tap into areas that may solve the missing piece to the innovation puzzle.

We have a calendar for staffing reasons. So every time there’s a new project, there is an invite sent out by the guy who has acquired the project. Then, by accepting or declining the request, you say you are interested in doing this project. So it’s a very open way of deciding what you want to work on… You choose what you want to do and apply for it (Dave)

3. Be Inquisitive

You need to have an inquisitive, open and positive mindset to engage stakeholders, lead the process of developing new ideas; as well as, managing failure and feedback to create better solutions. A key attribute is the desire to learn. This entails learning about others, challenging existing ways of thinking and a new perspective in which to learn something.

Failure at the right time is a good thing because it allows us to refine our idea before making expensive mistakes (Alex)

4. Be Mindful

You need to be mindful of various processes and thinking modes. This signifies awareness about the work that one does, how one does that work, why one does it in a particular way, and how one will improve the methods being used.

5. Be Experimental 

Try out ideas by creating mock-ups, building models or making something tangible to experiment with. The purpose of this would be to test and promote feedback. Visualisation is a great communication tool that helps in selling new ideas, seek approval or transform ideas into reality.

6. Take Action 

Choose action oriented behaviour over discussion, conceptual or analytical behaviour. Action drives the process, encourages experimentation and provides the catalyst for innovation endeavours to get off the ground.

…talk with your hands. Because we’re all very good at PowerPoint slides, but difficult to engage an audience when all you’re presenting is a concept on paper without the ability for someone to proactively engage with it. (Alex)

7. Be Creative

Nurture and inspire the creation of new ideas and expressions. Creative understanding involves acknowledging mistakes, minimising hierarchy, nurturing the ideas of others, inspiring and motivating people, encouraging imagination and resisting the urge to be quantitative.

Other attributes that fuel creativity:

  • being patient of the process
  • keeping a sense of humour
  • encouraging freedom
  • space for creative exploration
  • realisation of creative manifestations
  • encourage playfulness
  • build trust

I also conduct experiments and do usability testing for prototypes. It’s very broad and varied, and the scope is very open. The great thing about where I work is we’re not exposed to the bureaucracy and the red tape and the expectations upstairs. We’re very much given creative freedom to explore areas. problem spaces and bring new ideas to the bank. (Kim)

8. Be Open to Risk

You must accept and embrace uncertainty. This enables you to create innovations that are not mere improvements, but have the potential to be truly disruptive.

9. Be Positive

The ability to display a relentless sense of optimism is a trait that mobilises action and instills extra confidence within people to push through challenging situations, especially in the face of challenges, resistance and major setbacks. It is important for building momentum and realising new ideas as innovative outcomes.

Because you’re going on a journey, you’re going out in order to find something new. If you don’t go on that journey with optimism, and with this mindset of ‘it’s a challenge not a problem’, you will just fail. But this is the big problem, because this optimism doesn’t only have to be your own optimism. I mean it’s great if you are optimistic and your team maybe is optimistic. But if your management is not optimistic, then it really sucks. (Kim)

10. Be Determined  

You need to have a desire to make a difference, improve situations and the determination to see ideas into reality. You need to be comfortable with the possibility of conflict, have strong self-efficacy, be resilient, and skilled at persuasion and negotiation.

My job title is Innovation Manager, so I work in the lab and I need to work with start-ups, small businesses, clients and people upstairs to create new ideas. I see design thinking as very much an integral part of that toolkit. I’m also expected to run events to inspire staff members and connect them with the outside world. (Kim)

11. Critically Question

Critical questioning involves keeping an open mind about possibilities, especially during early stages. This ensures that ideas are not suppressed without validation, and that good ideas survive to then be developed into a more impactful outcome.

You can read the full research paper here ‘The Design Thinking Mindset: An Assessment of What We Know and What We See in Practice’ by Jochen Schweitzer, Lars Groeger and Leanne Sobel.