I have had several conversations lately and given several presentations on innovation in either education, health, nursing or technology and am getting a name for myself as an “innovator” and someone to ask about how to innovate.
In designing my presentations and associated learning opportunities, I have explored my thoughts, definitions, challenges and triumphs through innovation.
For the record, before I continue this reflection, I consider myself an innovator, disruptor and often unconventional leader.
Often people see innovation as working with cutting edge technology, and in some ways, this is what we see in the media and society portray as innovation. Along with this the innovators are often reported as being visionary, someone who is dynamic and leads others to success, while working at the forefront of the modern world, inventing and designing novel solutions. I believe there is much more to innovation than this. With the characteristics listed above in mind, I question where innovation is learned or begins, along with the constant need for novel contributions. What we hear about are established innovators. However, what I want to promote is the value of the journey in innovation.
For example, innovation can be:
- being curious and questioning the status quo
- a desire and striving for a better solution
- thinking about something in a different way
- trying something new or failing at something new and learning from this regardless of the outcome
When I look at the four examples above, my initial thoughts are, “isn’t this learning?”, and “isn’t this what most of us do every day?” The logical response after these questions is “well, aren’t we all innovators then?”
I would argue, yes we are all innovators in certain contexts. One of the most important characteristics of an innovator is curiosity and a willingness to challenge their own and others views. If I look back at my journey of innovation, I can honestly say that I was not always an innovator, in the sense that the media portrays innovation. I was willing to learn and continually curious. However, it was not until I had become comfortable in my ability, knowledge and skills that challenging myself became a part of my being.
The ability to challenge and change your perspective and direction goes hand in hand with showing vulnerability. Which, in my case, ultimately progressed to the knowledge and confidence to challenge others, and eventually society.
Lately, a new term seems to be commonly associated with innovation; this is disruption. I particularly like this term, as it describes the thinking associated with innovation well. For example, innovators often do not look for the one “right answer” but look toward many different possibilities and challenge society along the way. In my opinion, the word disruption now has a positive meaning, rather than being eternally negative.
The term disruptor and at times innovator can seem lonely as they refer to a single person. Furthermore, the media often use these terms when describing a single entity, thus isolating that entity. I began to fully realise this at a time in my career when innovation was viewed by those around me as not conforming, or rule-breaking and not required. In my experience, successful innovation not only depends on the passion and drive of the innovator but their ability to recognise the value of those who support that team. It was this realisation that led me to consider myself an unconventional leader and innovator.
To summarise, recognising and valuing innovative traits such as curiosity, challenging our own beliefs and disruption are a part of the journey toward innovation and are key in advancing society. I believe that people who are innovators may not always manifest the visionary, dynamic characteristics that society or the media often portray them as holding. Furthermore, the journey toward becoming an innovator yields many lessons such as the importance of honesty, tenacity, passion and teamwork.