Saturday, October 28, 2006

Life as an innovator

Technology Review has a list of the common characteristics of successful innovators. This list is comprised of observations they have made from creating their list of the year‘s 35 most innovative people.

I‘ve been sitting on this list for some time as I thought it needed something of my own. What it was needing came to me this past week. A list of what it‘s like being “labeled“ as an innovator. Now, I don‘t personally think I am an innovator, but after being told about a zillion times that I am too far “out there” I‘m going to assume that at least some people place me in this category. Being an innovator in some organizations is not a positive. It‘s a negative. Hmmmm?

The list from Technology Review:


1) Successful innovators are famously untroubled by the prospect of failure.
2) Many innovators appreciate failure.
3) Innovators commonly recognize that “problems and questions are the limiting resource in innovation.“
4) Innovators find inspiration in disparate disciplines.
5) Innovation flourishes when organizations allow third-party experimentation with their products.
6) Fra­gility is the enemy of innovation: systems should boast broad applications and be unbreakable.
7) Real innovators delight in giving us what we want: solutions to our difficulties and expansive alternatives to our established ways.
8) They are, it is true, sometimes perplexed by our ignorance of our own needs.
9) Successful innovators do not depend on what economists call “network externalities”. They ask, Would the innovation help someone now?
10) Many innovators become technologists because they want to better the world.

Those all sound pretty rosy. Here‘s my list of what it‘s like wearing the innovator‘s hat:


0) Be prepared to be attacked. (People who attack innovators are especially fond of using the back channel.)
1) No one has ever had an original idea. Ideas come from others who get their ideas from others. Think hybrid ideation.
2) People don‘t know what they don‘t know, and you can‘t help them. (See #0 and #1).
3) The edge is not a comfortable place. You must value diversity.
4) There are many people further out on the edge than you. Your job is to find them.
5) Beware of faux innovators. They are easy to spot, that‘s not the issue. The operative is “beware”.
6) Hang with real innovators as much as you can. You‘ll need respites.
7) Watch out for people who claim to represent the masses. They don‘t.
8) Laggards are really good at defending the status quo.
9) Inventing the future is hard work. It‘s especially difficult if you care.

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