What it takes to be an innovator (part 3)

In the first part of this series we talked about where ideas come from and how to find them. In part two we looked at how we can develop the idea into something tangible, something you can work with. The third part deals with idea adoptation.

Part 3: Moving from “I” to “Us”


A good, credible story helps to gain traction to your innovation initiative, but carries the risk of splitting the audience into believers and non-believers. If such is the case, your task is to do whatever it takes to win. Let go of the sole ownership of your story and allow as many believers as possible to be part of it! However, make sure you allow room for (constructive) criticism and discussion, there’s no point in making it a religion (and as we know religion is not very conducive to innovation). Also, make it personal so people can relate to you or understand why they should even listen to what you have to say.Finally, an unfinished story is better than a finished story, as it allows people to contribute and develop it further.

Typically, a good story tells the audience in crystal clear terms (1) Why is the innovation needed, what is the problem? (2) What are you trying to achieve, what is the challenge? (3) What is the (measurable) outcome of this innovation, what is the value added for the group or organization?

Create a platform for change

There’s a saying “If you want to go fast, go on your own; if you want to come far, take others with you”. A crucial mistake you’ll find in many books is that you’re left with the undeniable impression that you are primarily used as a means to achieve someone else’s goal. People don’t like to be used.

Now, let’s reverse this and say that you don’t try to convince people that you are right, but instead that you see them as your goal and ask for their intentions, dreams and fears. That’s when people open up, that’s when you connect, that’s when you see what drives them. And that makes them want to understand you better as well as your intentions (where, why). If you get this person to actively participate in the innovation process without further direction on your part, that frees up your time and energy to develop the next step of your journey. The two things that most certainly can prevent you from connecting with people are (1) that super ego of yours that tells you it’s your idea and yours only (but you can bet that somebody elsewhere in the world has come up with the same) (2) speed vs. depth – if you only care about moving forward and don’t invest into connecting with people, you’ll waste a lot of time and energy chasing up people and running behind the facts.

Be confident

Contrary to what one may believe, innovators are not the super confident personalities. Thinking of it, they often have every reason not to be confident, rowing upstream and asking her-/himself: am I doing the right thing? Yet why concentrate on your (lack of) self-confidence? Why not try and place your confidence in others instead, wouldn’t that be easier? The good thing about trust is that when you give it to someone else, chances are that you’ll get it back too. Keep in mind though that lasting trust doesn’t come from speaking and staring, but from action!

Kumbaya – build diversity in the team

We secretly prefer to work with people who “speak the same language” and “think like we do”. On the other hand, diversity allows us to think differently and to come to new insights. Research indicates that incremental innovation is best achieved with homogenous groups (similar background and/or expertise), and that heterogenous teams produce a lot of “junk” but are better placed to find the “jewel”.

So when hiring or composing your team, ask yourself how radical an innovation you’re pursuing, and how big a risk do you want to take? The less diverse your team is, the faster the progress and the more useful the output (short term goal). The more diverse the expertise within the team, the longer it will take to produce useful output and to achieve a “breakthrough” innovation (long term goal).

A recurring issue with diverse teams is the “clash of egos”. It pays off to appoint a moderator to focus on the process and to intervene where appropriate (content, procedure, interaction, emotion and environment). The larger the team, the more crucial it is to re-align and to communicate. So decide whether this is a role for you or for someone else to fulfill!

Build your network

A good network clearly provides benefits. The best networks are the informal ones, built by people that carry the same intrinsic motivation to develop something together. But before you set up your network, check if similar networks already exist in order to avoid receiving criticism by the rest of the organization (“yet another one of these groups”). Elements that may help determine the success of any network are:

  1. A clearly defined purpose and objective(s)
  2. The choice of people invited to the network – a personal invitation implies acceptance and recognition, yet do not exclude anyone without strong reason(s)
  3. Face to face “off line” meetings and joint activities
  4. Visibility of progress made – results and outcomes
  5. Publishing inspiring posts, offer tools, templates, … try and measure the dynamics of the network when you stop being active for a while – do the other members keep up the momentum, or does your network kill itself slowly?

So now you’ve found an idea to work with, you’ve developed it, and you’ve created a platform for change. But even if you got people to believe in your idea, you still need to work your way through the organization, both formal and informal. That’s what the next chapter talks about.

Source: “Baanbreker”, Simon Douw and Rutger Slump (2015)