The Innovator’s Mindset

The Innovator's MindsetHave you ever wondered how some people (or organizations) manage to have one amazing success after another? Well I have. I’ve always been fascinated with successful serial entrepreneurs, leaders, and companies that manage to always be at the top of the innovation ladder. People like Thomas Edison, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Wayne Huizenga and Jeff Bezos. Companies like Apple, 3M, GE, W.L. Gore, Proctor & Gamble, Intel and Virgin.

So, what is it about these types of people and these types of organizations that sets them apart? They all have an Innovator’s Mindset.

What is The Innovator’s Mindset?

A Mindset is, at its core, a belief construct. That is, it is a belief in one’s self, one’s own abilities and one’s own capabilities. More importantly, as Stanford University professor Carol Dweck describes in her book Mindset (Ballantine Books, 2007), these successful people and organizations all have what is known as a “Growth Mindset.” They are all guided by a belief that their “abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.”

The Innovator’s Mindset starts with a growth mindset, but it is also consumer centric, and oriented towards creating value. Innovators want (or perhaps even need) to grow, they want to provide value by creating solutions for things consumers need; as well as creating new value by providing useful things consumers didn’t even know they wanted.

The value of having an Innovator’s Mindset:

People and organizations with an Innovator’s Mindset tend to be more successful – or more lucky. It’s not simply that they tend to be more lucky, but having this positive, innovator’s mindset actually CREATES success, and luck. In The Luck Factor (Miramax, 2003) professor Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, details his research providing the following insight – Luck (or success) comes to those who embrace and embody four essential principles:

‣  Creating luck by noticing and acting on opportunities,
‣  Expecting that one can create luck through perseverance,
‣  Making decisions which are informed by the well honed intuition, and
‣  Resisting the negative by finding and even creating the bright side of every situation

Behaviors and skills indicative of The Innovator’s Mindset:

Andy Stefanovich in Look at More (Jossey-Bass, 2011) introduces his five M’s framework (Mood, Mindset, Mechanisms, Measurement, Momentum) which is a distillation of his “Thinking, Behavior, and Leadership approach for finding new ideas that lead to innovation.” The creative and innovative Mindset is enhanced through four behaviors:

‣  Changing one’s perspective
‣  Taking risks
‣  Finding one’s passion
‣  Challenging assumptions and embracing ambiguity

Additionally, Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen & Clayton Christensen in The Innovator’s DNA, (Harvard Business School Press, 2011) explain the five skills common in successful innovators:

‣  Associating – Making “connections”
‣  Questioning – Desire to fill gaps in understanding
‣  Observing – Seeing things that others don’t see in the things that everyone sees
‣  Networking – Purposeful interactions with others having varied backgrounds and perspectives
‣  Experimenting – The act of seeking answers to “what if”

These skills are highly aligned with, and additionally enable the principles and behaviors provided by Wiseman and Stefanovich above. In all, they are the elements of The Innovator’s Mindset.

I think of The Innovator’s Mindset as being comprised of following six reinforcing domains:

1)  Alertness
2)  Curiousness
3)  Willingness
4)  Joy
5)  Desire
6)  Drive

There are many many facets to these domains and I provide some of my initial thinking about these rich dimensions below.

Innovators are Alert –

✓  They are acutely aware of their environment – and purposefully so
✓   They are highly observant, and take note of things that inspire, delight, thrill, confuse, frustrate, calm, intrigue, and move them in subtle or extreme ways

Innovators are Curious –

✓  They want and need to know
✓  They naturally focus on questions first:
Why, Why Not, How, How Else, How Might, What if…
✓  The actively encourage the mind to Wonder and Wander, and Process
✓  They continually challenge existing beliefs

Innovators are Willing –

✓  They have egos but they readily check them at the door
✓  They believe they can, and are Willing to learn something from everyone
✓  Innovators are among the first to admit they don’t have all the answers
✓  They are absolutely Willing and prepared to be wrong
✓   They are Willing to experience failure – they embrace it, try to understand it, and learn from it.
✓  They are Willing to suspend existing beliefs and judgement
✓  They are Willing to forget what they know
✓  They are Willing for things unfold in due course
✓  They are comfortable in their own skin and are Willing to feel and look silly
✓  They are always ready and Willing to dive in
✓  They are Willing to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty
✓  They are more than Willing and ready to get their hands dirty

Innovators covet experiencing Joy –

✓  Their overarching mindset positive and they seek Joy in everything.
✓  They find Joy in playing
✓  There is Joy in trying
✓  They find Joy in discovering and learning
✓  They experience Joy from anything or anyone that is “different”
✓  There is Joy in being surprised
✓  There is Joy in experiencing the unexpected
✓  They experience Joy in finding the beauty in everything
✓  There is Joy from seeing brilliance in everyone
✓  The is so much Joy from “new”

Innovators Desire –

✓  They Desire change – change with a purpose
✓  They Desire personal and organizational growth in forward reaching ways
✓  They Desire to be WOWed! And experience Joy when they are!
✓  The Desire to be moved and to move others
✓  The have a Desire to experience different things and to experience things differently
✓  They Desire to see different things and see things differently
✓ They have a Desire find additional options – and then find even more

Innovators are Driven –

✓  Innovators are driven by growth and growing things
✓  They are Driven to create value for as many people as they can
✓  They are Driven to make a difference in the world

As I review the above check lists under each Innovator’s Mindset domain, I am certain that we know the names I started with at the onset of this article – Edison, Branson, Jobs, Huizenga, and Bezos – because they fully embrace (or embraced) each Innovator’s Mindset domain to the fullest.  And I am equally certain that there are more to follow in their footsteps.

image credit: tejiendoelmundo

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Learning Culture and InnovationBradley (Woody) Bendle is Director, Insights & Innovation at Collective Brands, Inc. and formerly a VP of Marketing, Customer Analytics & Strategic Systems at Blockbuster, and a consulting economist. His focus areas are: Brand & Market Strategy, Product & Service Innovation, Consumer Behavior, Quantitative & Qualitative Research Methods, and Applied Econometrics. (twitter – @wbendle)

Bradley Woody Bendle




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  1. Jerrold McGrath on March 5, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    I appreciated this piece, particularly the point about mindsets being ‘belief constructs’. In reading through the list of domains and their details, I certainly nodded agreement and wonder how many people would believe the opposite to be true about themselves. Of course, many people wouldn’t fit into these categories on careful scrutiny but a lot of the dimensions and their facets seem to be more societally constructed than absolute positions.

  2. Quinten McCauley on March 6, 2012 at 5:09 am

    I think that is so true. I would love to get a job with Virgin or Apple or someone like them.
    All those characteristics are beneficial to a persons success- or possible demise.
    If I could give a small account of my life, I’m hoping it may prove to give a good example of an innovators mindset.
    I’m an average guy with quite a good schooling. I was always putting in maximum effort but I was necessarily gifted at certain subjects.
    When I was 15 years old my brother said that I would never do any good at my leaving cert for German- f?!””@ cheek I thought- I wasn’t brilliant at it during term time but I managed to get a Grade A in the finals.
    I loved my sport- the same brother who used to be a rower told me again that I would never be any good as I was too short.- Yes that is true, I am short- but by the age of 18 years I had won 3 national championships and won 3 gold medals for my country.
    I became a professional skier and snowboarder until age took hold and resumed the family known carreer of flooring contracting.
    We moved to Ireland and I worked all over- on some of the most prestigious sites on the land. I was put on very complex projects, twice inventing new tools to finish the job to a very high standard.
    Recession came and the dole queue followed as travelling long distances (having a large young family) for work became a non option.
    Having time on my hands, I availed of the country’s mentoring system and put pen to paper about many products I had thought of over the years.
    A previous effort at invention 10 years earlier was ridiculed greatly by family and friends. Although their opinion hurt my feelings, my product prevented a problem from arising and I knew deep down it was actually a good idea. Nevertheless I left the idea alone, and continued with my creative thought. The main thing is that I believed in myself and didn’t give up.
    A year ago I showed 24 products to the countries best mentors- 22 of the products they said were excellent and should be persued.
    I had a 25th product which I didn’t show the mentors and I decided to make my own prototype and take it to the world invention show in London.
    It won three gold medals for international consumer invention of the year and was on television!!!
    I am hoping to be signing a global licensing deal in a few weeks time.
    I cannot say that I am a success story because I don’t believe that totally possible.
    I can certainly say believe in yourself- keep believing, listen, look, learn and try and surround yourself with good and like minded people
    I definitely have an innovator’s mindset
    Quinten McCauley
    Please give me a call if you think I could be an asset to your business

  3. Bud Taylor on March 10, 2012 at 11:52 am


    Over the past year i have built a VP Development program for a public company in Korea – Creating Leaders of Innovation. We use a proprietary Capability Model & draw on research like you mention in your article.

    We work with 300 VP’s in this $20 billion, 32,000 person company. My big observation between our successes & failures is your “innovators mind set.” Some people are naturally curious; want to lear about innovation; and want to make disparate connections that create ideas for clients. Others simply want a check list.

    Thanks for adding to the body of knowledge.

  4. pe wardani on March 12, 2012 at 3:54 am

    wonderful. I read the domain above and rethink about what I have done in my company. Try to find another opportunity to develop my organization and myself. thanks

  5. Bhushan on May 17, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Wonderful summary of the traits of successful innovators. I’ve noticed in my meetings with innovative entrepreneurs that they all had a willingness to learn, left ego at the door, were open to the power of asking and had a fire for creating the new.

    Thanks for sharing this resource.

  6. Ashok Kumar Chakrabarty on April 12, 2014 at 5:38 am

    I find the article very valuable. In real life ,I too had to solve technology problems of several industries through innovations. After a career in industry for 20 years and in Dept of Science and Technology for 15 years ,I took up the job of Director, EKTA Incubation Centre with West Bengal University of Technology in India for four years.During the last asignment ,I had to guide several young entrepreneurs.One of my close friend has been a life long innovator.Currently I am attached to three engineering colleges on the subject of Innovation & Entrepreneurship Development.
    Your article has become relevant for me to interact with faculty and students.I would like to personally interact with all those who have already commented on your article. Will it be possible for me to get their e-mail id through you.

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