dna of an innovator

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The journey of a corporate innovator can be a tumultuous path that is not for the faint of heart. Corporations are designed to remove variability and risk for their enterprise, which creates friction along the path of the innovator’s journey, and the role of the innovator is often unclear to the organization. Ultimately, this innovator’s path is needed and highly beneficial in that it creates new value to the world and can yield transformational growth for companies.

The role of the corporate innovator is, ultimately, to take the organization out of its comfort zone in order to stretch its boundaries and find new pockets of value to fuel sustainable growth. This is a task that often pits the innovators against established processes, industry norms, and, at times, company history and culture. This challenge is exponentially compounded by compensation systems that may compete against the innovator’s priorities and passive-aggressive behaviors that challenge the best change management plans.

While these challenges may be daunting, this is the reality a corporate innovator must face and resolve. It requires a certain amount of grit. It requires the Innovator’s DNA.

At its essence, the Innovator’s DNA is a mixture of defiance, savvy and drive that fuels the innovator’s ability to be successful. The Innovator’s DNA manifests itself in a unique fashion for each person, but the attributes are consistent for success:

    • They are an evangelist for the future with a deep-rooted belief in the long-term vision of the company. This is especially important in a business environment where short-term results can overwhelm the long-term strategy.
    • The innovator does not fear conflict and embraces it in a fashion that is necessary but constructive. Innovation, at times, is born out of conflict and the innovator must be comfortable navigating that uncomfortable environment in a constructive way.
    • They must also have confusion tolerance, as they need the ability to be comfortable in the unknown and unresolved. Most people require immediate clarity, but the first answer is not always the right one in innovation.
    • It is critical the innovator has career confidence in order to be effective. This attribute is one where they embrace risk and are not constantly fearful of risking their job in order to pursue the future.
    • Having business sense is not only necessary to shape the financial aspect of innovation, but also to maintain credibility within the company. Innovators should not isolate themselves from the realities of business and the economics of the business.
    • The innovator must have tremendous conviction to deliver solutions that lead to positive results. This helps prevent innovation being stuck in analysis or hiding in the shadows.
  • Finally, the innovator should have infectious passion for their idea and the future. They are often the sole innovation evangelist in the room and must be able to articulate a vision and how it connects to results. Passion is contagious and this attribute creates confidence, builds credibility and nurtures others to follow you.

The innovation journey is not (and should not be) easy, and not everyone starts out with an Innovator’s DNA. You may need to build those skills as an innovator. This is an awesome responsibility that requires the right traits to make fundamental change within your company and across your industry. Do you have the right traits to drive innovation in your company or know where you may have a gap?  Innovators are a unique breed. Those with an Innovator’s DNA have the advantage.

Originally published at On The Wire, a blog from Highwire Group helping leaders and their companies embrace transformative thinking and innovate fearlessly.

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Arguably one of the most knowledgeable intrapreneurs around, Alex Gonzalez has helped lead transformative innovation and build growth processes for the likes of GE and Equifax, among many others. Today he’s the founder and managing director at Creative Growth Ventures, where he splits his time advising, training and consulting with executives, corporate innovation teams and high-growth startups.