How to be an innovator

By Dr Ian Cody

Innovation and entrepreneurship are terms usually associated with advances in technology but really apply to us all, no matter our profession. The world of today demands that each of us exhibit the traits of an innovator in order to cope with the rapid rate of change going on around us.

Words like “entrepreneur” only appeared in common language a generation ago reflecting a time before in which change occurred more gradually, corporate employment was the norm and a person might reasonably expect to stay with a large company for a working lifetime. Those times have clearly passed.

We are in the digital information age and riding an exponential growth curve. Delving for new information once took much time and effort but is now available almost immediately using modern search engines and analytic methods. For example the Human Genome Project took several years to achieve the goal of the first fully transcribed genome of a human being. Now a personalised genome reading can be accessed on your innermost mechanisms, gifts and frailties within hours. There has been no other time when so much information has been so accessible to so many.   

But it is a two-edged sword. In accepting the obvious benefits of ready information we have become more dependent on the systems that enable it.  Those who grew up in this highly digital era may have little perspective on it because, like the proverbial frog in the pot, the increasing heat goes unnoticed. Social media flourishes but knowledge growth has not necessarily followed.

As an analogue person from another time I do admire the abilities of youth to adapt to change yet at the same time worry that moments to think and plan are given up to reactive impulses that make it harder to forge personal identity and direction in life.

What are the traits of an innovator? In my experience, working for decades in industrial research and development, they are an ability to distil complex ideas into a crisp, clear vision and plan, an ability to compel others to join the quest to achieve that vision and above all to show resilience when setbacks are (inevitably) encountered. An innovator is a dreamer and a leader with a precise conscious mind.

When the innovator combines the above traits with the courage to take a risk by investing all of that person’s resources, physical, intellectual, psychological and financial into the pursuit, the entrepreneur is born.

 The challenge for all of us is to strike that balance of being able to selectively absorb and effectively evaluate the information flood to make best personal use of it. It means setting a course for oneself in a way that is in accord with personal interests and wishes enabled by an ability to draw knowledge and wisdom from the sea of data. It requires time to dream and the time to commit with serious intent when the dream takes shape.

In the end, all this may be simply framed as self-management. By allowing time to imagine and then applying the disciplines of time management and coherence anyone can be an innovator and entrepreneur

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