Posted by: rolfsky | April 19, 2010

is innovation nature or nurture?

When I speak at conferences, I am often posed with questions like:

  • how can I be more innovative?
  • how can my company innovate more?

In that question there is another question hiding, is “innovation” something born, or something bred?

Can you learn to be innovative, or only ‘have it from the start’?

Innovation is the combination of both the knack, and the skills.

With the knack only, you will get great ideas and fail to make anything come of them. With the skills only, you will be forever waiting for inspiration.

In the corporate world, we often see companies with the skills, but no knack for great ideas slowly wasting away into mediocrity. This is a problem of selection bias, as few companies with great ideas and no skills ever progress beyond conversations in the pub. The few who are left, if stagnating in their industry, are clinging to optimizing one good idea they had a long time ago.

Individual innovators and innovative companies share something in common: the capacity to embrace the trend-setting, mold-breaking, mind-bending concept brought forth in innovation and then execute on that idea with passion, flair, and speed.

If you want to build amazing houses, you need amazing architects, and amazing builders.

Whether by accident or intent, successful innovative companies and innovative individuals have found a way of balance both the nature and the nurture of great ideas. The incredible is heard with welcoming ears, prioritized against the current goals, and swiftly put in place if possible. Having the idea is one step, making it happen is another one all together.

Luckily, great ideas and innovators are easy to spot if we know where to look (just look for wild gesturing and a fire in their eyes); and once we know who they are, we can build a team around them if need be.

As both employers and employees, we can focus on the setting up the structure upon which great ideas can happen; helping the nature along with a little nurturing of our own.


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