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“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

~Steve Jobs

Most companies, executives don’t feel personally responsible for being innovative. Strangely, they tend to feel that they are responsible for facilitating innovation, which is entirely different from actually coming up with the grand concepts that have created unique new business models and products. Steve Jobs of Apple, Inc. is a noted exception. His ongoing dedication to innovation has inspired all of us to put innovation back at the front and center of our own jobs, even as leaders and executives.

So, what makes innovators different? Are innovators born or made? Studies of identical twins separated at birth have shown that our ability to think creatively comes one-third from genetics, and two-thirds of the innovation skill set comes through learning.

According to a six-year study conducted by Harvard Business Review authors, there are five habits that reveal the underpinnings of creative thinking.  These habits are embraced by innovators such as Jeff Bezos of, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Peter Thiel of PayPal. Would you like to share in the secret?  Here we go:

Top 5 Habits of Innovators

1. Associating The ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas from different fields.

2. Questioning Constantly asking questions that challenge common wisdom.

3.  Observing Scrutinizing common phenomena-looking out for common behaviors and figuring out how things could be done differently.

4. Experimenting Actively trying out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots. (Think of Edison who said, “I haven’t failed.  I’ve simply found 10,000 ways that do not work.”).

5. Networking Devoting time and energy to finding and testing new ideas through a network of individuals and organizations.

Most of all, innovators are preoccupied with excellence in all of their efforts. This includes personal accountability and effectiveness as well as a keen attention to one’s own professional presence. How else can you make your innovations become executed plans without the reliability that comes with a strong reputation for being effective and professional? Suzanne Updegraff, author, business leader and CEO of Employee Development Systems, Inc. recently wrote an article about what she has recently learned about the power of a commitment to excellence. Download her article.

Now that we have covered how you can become an innovative thinker, here s how to foster innovation in your team.

  • Openly encourage innovation in your team. Include everyone, and let the group know that you and the organization are open to innovative ideas and change, whether it is how to find new clients, how to their jobs better, or ways to grow the business.
  • Get comfortable with failure. Even thought failure is considered bad by most standards, it is absolutely necessary, if we are going to stretch in new ways. Simply put, there is no growth without failure. If your team knows that it’s okay if their idea is not the panacea they thought it would be, you’ll get even more people opening up and sharing their ideas. Cultivate the fear of mission out on opportunities, versus the fear of failure. Legend has it that in the early days of MTV, overseer Steve Ross would fire employees who didn’t fail enough.
  • Don’t pine for perfection. Encourage team members to put their ideas on the table, even those amorphous, unsophisticated ones. In fact, it’s better to set vague innovation goals and build rough prototypes.

Achieve Excellence Now

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand.  The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

~William Pollard

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