The Five Senses of Innovation

The Five Senses of InnovationHow do you know if someone is truly innovative?  I look for three things.  First, does the person have a cognitive process for generating new ideas? Innovation is a skill, not a gift.  It can trained and learned like any other skill.  So I expect successful innovators to have such training and be able to deploy ideation methods – on demand.

Second, is the person motivated and hopeful about the future?  Hope is defined as a positive motivational belief in one’s future; the feeling that what is wanted can be had;  that events will turn out for the best.  Research shows that an employee’s sense of hope explains their creative output at work.  Hope predicts creativity.

Third, and perhaps most elusive: do they have the innovation senses to know how their efforts will succeed?  I call these the Five Senses of Innovation.

1.  Internal Sense:  Does the innovator grasp the company’s current situation, challenges, opportunities, and direction as it relates to the presentation topic?  Does the innovator understand how to gain support from leaders in terms of budget, headcount, and time?  Does the innovator have a sense of how to give and get reciprocal support to the right people across different functional departments (R&D, marketing, finance, and so on)?

2.  External Sense:  Does the innovator understand the market layout and segmentation?  Is he or she tuned into the competitive factors?  Does the innovator grasp what factors are critical to drive success and why the company has a right to win?

3.  Positional Sense:  Given an understanding of the internal and external factors, does the innovator grasp where the company is positioned in the market and where it needs to be relative to the competition?  Does he or she connect how innovative products and services help move the company to a more desirable position?

4.  Strategic Sense:  Has the innovator considered various options to achieve success rather than just one “obvious” choice?  Is the innovator insightful enough to consider the less obvious or hidden options?  Does he or she sell ideas internally not just on the basis of what needs to be done, but also what was considered and ruled out?

5.  Value Creation Sense:  Has the innovator tied the recommended course of action to value creation for the company?  Is the innovator realistic about the recommended course of action and the risk involved?  Does the innovator show a real sense of concern and ownership of the fit and impact of the recommended idea?  Does he or she have “skin in the game?”

For a completely different take on how to use those “other” five senses (hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste) to create new innovations, click here.

image credit: voyager

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Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at and at

Drew Boyd




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  1. Eric Antariksa - Marketing Student on July 13, 2012 at 4:14 am

    Great article. I will use this valuable framework (5 senses of innovation questions) to test our innovation process.

  2. John Wolpert on July 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Sounds like a good framework for evaluating a person who is creative and can succeed with a project. Not clear why this is about innovation. Creativity and a sense of the market and strategic factors…all good stuff, but doesn’t tell you whether you have an innovator.

    In my experience with innovators, or put another way, with people who are habituated to paradigm shifting, the common denominator is an irresistible urge to do “something completely different,” outside the lines of the context the person is in currently, even when there is nothing particularly wrong with that context. (Please don’t, at this point, bring up the old saw about “sustaining innovation” versus “disruptive innovation.” I’ve already pointed out in other posts that I wish I could go back in time and disabuse Dr. Christensen of the notion before he caused us all to go “innosane” with this false dichotomy.)

    Now, whether or not an innovator is good at executing or getting people to follow them off the current path is a question about leadership and the attributes described in the article. But in my view, there is utility in keeping innovation clearly distinct from other areas. Without a clear sense of the distinction, we wind up writing great articles about strategy and execution and then blithely slapping the word Innovation into the title.

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