Teams and Projects How Do I Become an Innovative Thinker By Jennifer Martin | May 18, 2020 Interested in becoming an innovative thinker? Being innovative means thinking about things that have never been thought of before. Whether they are completely new ideas or incremental ideas to improve existing products, services and ideas. Typically, when we think of innovative people, we think of their achievements. We don’t consider the process they went through or the amount of perspiration they exuded. So, you may be asking yourself, “What is innovation?” What Is Innovation? Innovation is part perspiration and part process. The innovative process is about processing a great idea, communicate it in a way that is intuitive and followed up with hard work to make the innovation a reality. Innovative people study, research and contemplate new ideas. They question the status quo and open themselves up to these new ideas. Innovation can apply to any industry, field of study, or area of interest. Innovation is the application of a novel idea. An innovative product, service, process or experience is perceived as new and adopted by customers. It is also an ability to adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of customers. How Can I Be an Innovative Thinker? There are many different skills and qualities of an innovative thinker. They include cultivating innovation, pursuing a passion, seeking opportunity, surrounding oneself with inspiration, being a leader, taking risks, being curious, looking to the future, not forgetting about the past, looking to other industries and embracing failure. Cultivate Innovation Most people are not born innovative thinkers. They must cultivate certain traits including the ability to think abstractly, curiously, with an idea of risk and a dissatisfaction of the status quo. If you have any of these traits or are continuing to learn them, take the time to understand and cultivate these traits to become a more innovative thinker. Pursue Your Passion Successful innovators follow their passion. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you won’t work a day in your life. Those with passion are looking for challenges. With persistence you can ultimately reach your innovation goals. Seek Opportunity An innovative thinker will seek out an opportunity, while a non-innovator will wait until opportunities find them. Innovation is full of patterns and connections. Innovative thinkers notice these patterns and connections. For example, Uber and Lyft became ride sharing services when everyone already thought taxis were satisfying the demand. Instead, Uber and Lyft decided to create a ride sharing company that changed the way people got around. This inspired a bike sharing company and a scooter sharing company. The status quo of taxis was not going to stop Uber and Lyft in disrupting the ride sharing industry. Surround Yourself with Inspiration Innovative thinkers surround themselves with other innovative thinkers and environments that are conducive to innovative thought. Environment plays a large part in the development of innovation and determines how often it is used. Many innovative thinkers surround themselves with other innovators that they can collaborate with and come up with innovative ideas. Many innovators had colleagues that they worked with, including Albert Einstein. Many of his fellow theoretical physicist friends, including his own wife, collaborated with Einstein when thinking about many of his theories and would routinely manage the mathematics behind these theories to prove their feasibility. Be a Leader Innovative thinkers are committed to creating productive organizations with employees that are passionate about their work. Many innovative thinkers are leaders. Our first American president, George Washington, was an innovative leader. Leading the Patriot forces to victory for America’s independence, then becoming the United States of America’s first official president. As an innovator, leaders of the military understood that they could not fight the war as it had been done for centuries. Breaking ranks, America’s forces fought from hiding places, bushes and behind cover instead of battling in open warfare. This allowed a smaller fighting force to defeat a much larger British army. Take Risks Innovative thinkers don’t take shortcuts and are not afraid to go after more complex solutions. Even if this means taking more risk. Innovators trust the people in their organization, exert minimal control, and leading by example. They empower people to be creative and develop their owns skills that allow them to prosper and be innovative. Innovators think outside the box and are not afraid to break from norms and past conventional wisdom. Taking risk is an inherent quality that helps one come up with ideas that have never been thought of before. Be Curious Keep asking yourself why something works and how it can be improved. Whether you decide on an incremental innovation or radical one is up to you. You must question the assumptions that everyone else just accepts. You must be curious about customer needs and motivations. Elon Musk understood that eBay was going to need a payment service to manage the financial transaction between buyer and seller. He created PayPal in an effort to facilitate these handful of transaction as many bigger financial services companies would not take on such a small endeavor. Elon Musk was rewarded for his curiosity growing PayPal alongside eBay for many years. Look to the Future An innovative thinker can identify what people need, before they understand they need it. With an eye to the future, you can create innovation. For example, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had a vision of the future before anyone else. At the same time, Steve Jobs saw that computers were going to be on every person’s desk and Bill Gates knew that every computer was going to need software to run it. Both ended up innovating in their own way and created the need for consumers to use a computer before even the consumer knew they needed it. Don’t forget about the Past Learn from the past so the same mistakes are not made again and again. There are many different examples of past mistakes including the Chevy Nova. Chevrolet was a global brand and sold cars in many different countries outside of the U.S. They didn’t take in consideration that the word “Nova” translated in Spanish means “No Go.” This had a negative image to those Spanish speakers, ultimately resulting in a failure of the car itself. Chevrolet did not give up, they learned from their mistakes and kept creating new brands and innovative cars. Look to other Industries Something that others are doing might disrupt your industry. Henry Ford looked to the meat packing industry and realized that the use of an assembly line would help workers at Ford assemble cars faster and with additional quality. By standardizing the Model T, Henry Ford was able to reduce the price of motor vehicles. The Model T was now a vehicle that many could now afford. Embrace Failure A failure gives up, while being successful means getting knocked down and getting up until you are successful. Innovation will have its failures, but true innovative thinkers will learn from failure and continue to innovate. Create an environment where failing is celebrated and applaud people for trying something new. By celebrating failure, you allow people to be more creative and ultimately innovate. What are the Different Types of Innovation? There are four distinct types of innovation, they include incremental, disruptive, architectural and radical innovation. Incremental Innovation Incremental innovation involves slow and steady changes over time. The majority of incremental innovation occurs to existing products for which the technology or idea is already very well known or defined. This is not to say that incremental innovation is not important. In fact, an argument could be made that it is the most important kind of innovation because it allows for consistent progress over time as opposed to much larger jumps followed by long periods of technological and project plateaus. Disruptive Innovation Disruptive innovation involves a product, process, or idea that fundamentally changes another markets ability to operate normally. Disruptive innovation is often the most noticeable type of industry change because it can, almost in an instant, disrupt entire industries. Architectural Innovation Architectural innovation involves finding a way to reconfigure the existing parts of a product in a better way. Architectural innovation is about having a new idea for underlying components as opposed to having a new idea for the components themselves. If a company wants to avoid other businesses from quickly improving upon their idea, they can prevent this is by entering into patent protection. Patents allow the creator of the product to have exclusive use of it for a particular amount of time. Radical Innovation A radical innovation is one that completely eliminates the need for a particular industry or immediately requires other industries to drastically change their business models. Radical innovation does not happen very often but when it does, the shock waves are often felt in almost every industry. Final Thoughts There are many innovative thinkers to get your inspiration from. Don’t forget that you can’t have innovation without perspiration, so if you are passionate about a topic you have a better chance of being innovative. 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