Four Characteristics of an Innovators Mindset

A slightly different, more personal blog post from me this time. I was asked recently to deliver a keynote at a conference and was given the topic of innovators mindset. To be honest, this was not the topic I wanted – I was hoping I could entertain the audience with stories of failed innovation experiments and at least get a few laughs. I’m not sure I really understood what a mindset was, least of all what an innovators mindset might be. So, I reflected on what mindset characteristics I could identify which have helped me develop in my career. I thought I would share them here and I do hope they are helpful, but please note this is not a definitive list and I’m still very much work in progress.

1. Be relentlessly customer curious

Early on in my career I organised a market research group. I sat behind a glass partition with a lovely dinner, watching someone else test my proposition with a load of people who had been paid to be there. As I drove away that evening, I knew an opportunity had been missed but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what. Today, one of the favourite and most valuable parts of my job is getting out of the building and talking to real people about real problems. You might be interested in a tool I use called the ‘Mom Test’ which helps you ask the right questions when everyone lies – even your Mum!

2. Be resilient

If you work in innovation you must be resilient and pick yourself up when things don’t quite work out as expected. I’ve worked in innovation teams which have made millions and I’ve worked in teams which have cost millions. The key for me is to learn from these experiences and work out the stuff which worked and what didn’t. For example, I’ve launched products where the insight was good, the proposition sound but the pricing was wrong and unsurprisingly the product failed. Being resilient means I brought the product back in-house, sorted the pricing and launched again.

3. Be a risk taker

I’ve spent most of my career leading innovation teams in complex corporate businesses. Taking risks, however calculated they maybe, is often not something actively encouraged in corporates. In fact, it is positively discouraged. A lot of the innovation processes we use today have quite rightly been developed to reduce risk but I think fundamentally, if you are going to work in this space at some point you will need to take a risk. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

4. Be creative

Something I really used to struggle with early on in my career was being badged as ‘creative’. I wanted to be ‘commercial’ and great with spreadsheets – I’m not. Now I realise being a creative thinker, being able to solve problems by connecting thoughts and concepts in a different way is a real differentiator for me and a key mindset of an innovator. This is backed up by a recent LinkedIn report where the number 1 skill employers are looking for in 2019 is creativity. And let’s be clear; creativity doesn’t mean being able to draw. According to Stefan Mumaw “Creativity is problem-solving with relevance and novelty.”

Probably worth reflecting here on a ‘growth mindset’ from Carol Dwecks work which is currently a hot topic attracting a lot of attention. A growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, is where you believe your basic characteristics are not set in stone but can be cultivated by your own efforts. For sure, I have a growth mindset and my skills and characteristics have changed as my career has developed – not sure I will ever be truly amazing at spreadsheets though!

I’d be really interested to hear about your innovators mindset and what characteristics you are trying to develop in yourself and your teams. Or, if you would like me to come and speak at your event then please contact me at:

Things I’m interested in talking about which you might find interesting…

  • Introductions to Design Thinking & Lean Start Up methodologies, i.e. de-risking innovation.

  • Really understanding what customers want – tools & techniques to overcome the premise that everyone lies.

  • Innovating from within businesses – sharing my success and failures from running innovation teams

  • Design Sprints – Solving big problems and testing new ideas in five days.

#creativity #innovation #mindset


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