Illustration by Tammy Gu

5 Markers Of Someone Who Is Truly Innovative

If you follow our LinkedIn or know a bit about what we do at Harness, then it will come to you as no surprise that we’re absolutely crazy about innovation.

We don’t just love figuring out new solutions to problems; we’re also incredibly passionate about nurturing innovation in people around the world. We love thinking through the resources required to effectively innovate, and then doing what we can to provide those resources to as many people as possible.

We ourselves are comprised of innovators — people who are led by their creative sense that the world could be better. But being innovative is not just about being creative (though that’s a crucial element to it as you’ll see).

There’s much, much more to being innovative. In fact, it’s probably impossible to say everything there is to say about what makes for a truly innovative person.

So, we’ll restrict our attention to five markers of someone who is truly innovative, say a little about what each marker comes to, and, finally, we’ll add some tips along the way for how to cultivate these traits.

Innovative marker number one.

You’re Creative

We’ve already mentioned a bit about the trait of creativity. When most people think about creativity, they tend to think about being artistic.

What’s important to see, however, is that the two are not actually one and the same thing. They’re different.

Artists are definitely creative.

When an artist takes to their canvas, camera and musical instrument, what they’re producing is something that tends to be fundamentally different than everything else in the world. They’re producing art.

To produce art, you must be creative — you must put your imaginative powers to the test to bring about a new thing or a revised version of an old thing. You create by means of your imaginative capacities.

Creatives, however, are not necessarily artists.

While art is a notoriously difficult word to define, hopefully enough has been said to see how creatives differ from artists (i.e. how you can be a creative without being an artist).

Holding our traditional conceptions of art and artist in mind, think about an accountant for a moment. As they assess your revenue against your expenses, they can envision new ways of structuring your finances — new ways, hopefully, to save you money.

This is an instance of creativity on the part of the accountant. And notice how we wouldn’t ordinarily call what the account did art, strictly speaking.

Innovators are much like the accountant in this case (and even sometimes like the artist): they bring their imaginative powers to bear on reality in order to envision a new or revised way of doing something.

If you’re an innovator, then you’re creative. But you’re also more than that.

You’re A Problem Solver

The most successful innovators are the ones who solve our biggest problems. Or, at least our perceived biggest problems. Was it really a problem that we didn’t have 4K video capabilities in our pockets at all times? It’s not obvious.

Returning to the main idea, if you’re an innovator, you’re a problem solver. People who are merely good at pointing out problems are not necessarily innovators.

(Actually, such people tend to be hard to be around.)

The people who solve the problems, on the other hand? We love being around these people. They add value to our lives and value to the world.

Innovators are solution-focused, engineering value wherever they can. If you’re interested in cultivating this trait, begin by paying attention to small-scale problems and work on trying to solve just those.

For example. Perhaps you’ve noticed that you spend “way more” money on eating out every month than you’d like (problem). You might respond by giving yourself a cash allowance for food each month in order to control your spending (solution).

If you’re an innovator, then you’re a problem solver. But you’re also more than that.

You’re Curious

Innovators have certain characteristics of mind. That is, innovators think a certain way.

An innovator’s thinking, by and large, is often marked by an intense kind of curiosity. What’s meant here by curiosity is a nearly-unquenchable fascination with the “why.”

Why, they’ll ask, are we doing X in Y way? Have we ever considered doing X in Z way? What’s the purpose behind paying for X in our budget? What if our world operated in “this” fashion instead of “this” one?

Innovators can be border-line annoying for their curiosity. But without it, our world would be in genuine trouble. Curiosity of mind is not just central but essential to innovation and therefore to the minds of innovators.

How might you cultivate curiosity? Start asking “why.” (Pro-tip: if you’re doing this with your team, family or friends, make sure your delivery — i.e. how you say something — is inquisitive and tactful.)

Another way to think about curiosity is in terms of wonder. There’s a kind of awe that the curious person seems to maintain at all times.

If you’re an innovator, then you’re curious. But you’re also more than that.

You’re Open-Minded

What’s the difference between being curious and open-minded?

While both are characteristics of the mind, open-mindedness is about the way we entertain (or fail to entertain) perspectives different from our own.

The open-minded person who thinks In-N-Out has the best cheeseburger in California is able to seriously entertain, for example, the possibility that Five Guys may have a better cheeseburger.

To be clear, simply entertaining an alternative viewpoint from your own does not commit you to that view point and nor does it mean that you lack conviction about your own perspective.

Why, then, are innovators open-minded people?

Innovators must be able to entertain alternative viewpoints from their own. Why? Because that’ll be the only way to create something new or revise something old.

If you can’t break free of your own thoughts and perspectives to consider those different from yours, innovating impossible.

Become open-minded. How? Start by listing out what you feel most convicted about and then try to seriously entertain the alternative point of view. Not necessary to do this with every position you hold (some certainly don’t deserve it), but do try it with at least some.

Start small. Practice with your favorite restaurant and its biggest competitor.

If you’re an innovator, then you’re open-minded. But, alas, you’re also more than that.

You’re Visionary

Visionary people are future-oriented. Out of a dissatisfaction with aspects of the past and present, visionaries fixate on a future that’s distinctively better—one that’s preferred.

This is yet another core component of the innovator: they’re literally obsessed with a future markedly better than our past and present. They are visionary.

In this sense, innovators can be great dreamers. Their dreams are generally packed with strategies for making them come true. And the result of the dream come true is usually an improved kind of existence for our world.

It’ll be difficult to innovate if you can’t get out of the past or present moment. Conversely, you can’t neglect the past or present moments either for they inform how you will bring about the vision.

By being creative, dedicated to solving problems, curious, open-minded and visionary, you commit yourself to being an innovator.

But like we’ve been saying, there’s even more to being an a true innovator. What we now know is that true innovators are at least marked by the five foregoing traits.

We’re curious: what else marks an innovator in your mind?

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Harness is a support and intelligence platform for engaging, tracking and advancing innovation communities. Welcome to our blog!