Success in any industry goes hand-in-hand with innovation; the ability to produce new ideas, provide better solutions, and pioneer new products. The most successful people are not simply the hardest working, they’re the most innovative.
You can hustle and put in endless hours each week, but if you’re not stretching your innovative muscles, you’ll never achieve breakthroughs and success.
From Edison, to Branson, and Cuban, here are 10 ways the most innovative people think differently:
1. They constantly look for patterns
It’s called Apophenia: the ability to perceive meaningful patterns within random data. While it’s a universal human tendency, it is more pronounced among innovative thinkers.
Intentionally looking for patterns within your industry will allow you to spot relationships that others cannot. It’s a skill that allows you to ‘predict’ or foresee a problem — and that’s an opportunity for innovation. Great innovators are always finding how the outlier fits into the picture.
2. They’re brilliantly lazy
Bill Gates has been quoted as saying, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” Innovators will find the best and easiest route to get a project done. It boils down to efficiency. Innovators live by the saying, “Work smart, not hard.” They don’t just strive to create the best product, but also the best process.
“All great thinkers are initially ridiculed – and eventually revered.” – Robin Sharma
3. They’re obsessive note-takers
Your conscious mind (working memory) can only process small chunks of information at a time. With a cacophony of streaming ideas, great innovators are incessant notetakers. Thomas Edison left 3500 notebooks behind at his death.
When Richard Branson revealed one of his most powerful business tools, it wasn’t a complicated gadget, but carrying an old fashioned notepad wherever he went. He’s always seeking feedback from flight passengers and cabin crew, and using that information to innovate.
Ideas can come from nowhere; your million-dollar idea can come while you’re waiting for your coffee or getting groceries. Keep a compendium of your ideas, it’ll be your trail leading to gold.
4. They preach perfection, but practice progress
Perfectionism can be crippling, but discarding it altogether is an open door for mediocrity. Great innovators still preach and expect perfection, yet live in the reality of progress. It’s a healthy pendulum-swing between the two. They strive for the ideal, and get work done in the real. The key is to aim for perfection, but keep firing to make progress.
5. They’re allied with their fear
Described as a “quirky creative genius,” founder of Kidrobot and Ello, Paul Budnitz says the key to innovation is your relationship with fear:
“Every one of my successful ventures has faced bankruptcy, come close to losing key employees, or just collapsed along the way. But by welcoming fear you also get the benefit of what being afraid brings: heightened awareness, compassion for others you are working with, and an unbreakable commitment to survive at all costs.”
Great innovation comes from working with your fear; making it an ally rather than an enemy. See it as an advantageous adrenaline rush.
6. They don’t wait for things to break
You’ve heard the adage, “Why fix it if it ain’t broke?” Great innovators don’t wait for things to break, they’re constantly fixing and iterating. The key to staying ahead and being a pioneer is to live by the mantra, “It can always be better.”
Rather than wait for a problem and then provide a solution, great innovators find ways to ensure the problem will never even exist.
7. They understand the creative process
Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, Implementation. Those are the 4 classic stages of the creative process. One of the most crucial stages, just before the “eureka” moment is “Incubation.” Great innovators have always found novel ways to nurture this stage of creativity; taking long showers, going for a walk in nature, doing yoga headstands.
Incubation is your unconscious process of synthesizing the information you encountered through your conscious work. The intentional detachment results in a “marinating” of ideas and then solutions coming “out of the blue.”
8. They pursue multiple streams
Elon Musk has Tesla, and Solar City. Mark Cuban has too many to name, on top of the Mavericks. It’s more than just maximizing income, a hallmark of great innovators is nurturing multiple interests. Just like the creative process, alternative interests and ventures overlap and feed off of each other.
Giving yourself opportunities to pursue multiple projects not only breaks the psychological-bottleneck of pursuing one single venture, but expands your knowledge and overall business acumen.
“Being different and thinking different makes a person unforgettable. History does not remember the forgettable.” – Suzy Kassem
9. They possess a healthy arrogance
It may come across as arrogance, but great innovators are highly confident. It’s not just good self-esteem, there’s a practical use — when Gallup studied entrepreneurial talent they found that people with high confidence performed better in stressful situations. When others see risk, highly confident and innovative people see opportunity; when others see roadblocks and potential failure, they see victory.
A key part of innovation is implementation — it’s not being the first to come up with the idea, but having the boldness to be the first to produce it. A healthy arrogance will give you the boldness to take action.
10. They embrace paradoxical thinking
Great innovators do not see the world in black and white. While many people come to “either/or” conclusions, they strive to see “both/and.” There was a time when cell phones only made calls, and music devices only played music — it was “either/or” — but innovators overlook conventional boundaries.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, the great American novelist said it best, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”