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I just finished reading an article from the Harvard Business Review on what shapes an innovator. In it, the authors focus on five key skills that define true innovation. These abilities are: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and networking. When it comes to associating, the authors refer to the “Medici effect;” when great minds with different perspectives come together they will enrich each other work. Places like New York came to mind, where its diversity of people and ideas really promoted a sense of vibrancy and innovation that I have not really found anywhere else.
Innovators also tend to pose the right questions. They tend to break barriers and seek for ways to beat the system. Innovators tend to question the obvious, and imagine opposites. In many ways, as posed by Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind, innovators have “the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their head.” Sometimes this involves playing devil’s advocate, sometimes it means looking at “pushing others to justify themselves.”
I was particularly intrigued by the authors’ take on observation as a way to innovate. It sounds so simple, but this is how I personally have come up with out-of-the box ideas. By looking at something, really spending deconstructing something, one is really bound to come up with new ideas. Think about it, and start innovating it!
After thinking about what to create, or what to improve, innovators start experimenting! The authors mentioned how “whether it was intellectual exploration (Michael Lazaridis mulling over the theory of relativity in high school), physical tinkering (Jeff Bezos taking apart his crib as a toddler or Steve Jobs disassembling a Sony Walkman), or engagement in new surroundings (Starbucks founder Howard Schultz roaming Italy visiting coffee bars).” The authors also have data on how important it is to experiment other cultures. Innovators tend to live in different countries and leverage experiences to innovate in products and services.
The authors also discussed networking as a tool for for testing new ideas, with a diverse group of people. When others network, they do to seek resources or sell more products, however innovators are looking to extend their knowledge domains. Innovators also attend events like the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conferences, where they are both inspired and energized by new ideas and different ways to tackle problems.
Above all practice, the cross-cutting theme of the article is to keep practicing. The best way to truly innovate is to learn from mistakes and sometimes build upon them. As the authors state in the article “innovative entrepreneurship is not a genetic predisposition, it is an active endeavor.”