In order to succeed as a professional innovation manager, you need a variety of skills. And these skills are only going to become more valuable in the coming decades as companies realise that they are required for future growth.
From being able to manage bureaucracy to coming up with ideas in the first place, here are the 6 Most Important skills you need to be an effective innovator:
Innovation relies on the implementation of a creative idea. But not all ideas are good ideas. It takes special skills to come up with an idea that is truly creative, as this requires finding out what will add value for the customer.
While many innovation experts focus on helping individuals learn techniques to come up with more ideas, like brainstorming or design thinking, the most valuable skill is being able to select which ideas to focus on based on the value they will deliver.
2. Psychological Safety
Innovation requires working as a team. And in order for that team to be effective innovators, they need to feel like it is safe to speak openly about their progress on challenging projects with unknown targets, and where things will never run according to plan.
This is why as an innovation leader, you need to build a culture and environment of psychological safety with your teams. Here, team members feel the trust to try new things and potentially fail, but speak openly about what was learned. It also allows the entire team to understand what is expected of them and how they are performing against those expectations, something vitally important when progress can be hard to measure by traditional methods.
Click here to learn the best ways to build psychological safety in your teams.
3. Growth Mindset
Some people believe that no matter what challenges they encounter, they can grow to overcome them. These people have what is called a growth mindset.
Some people on the other believe that everything they have now is what constitutes their value. In effect, this second group of people is cursed by their expertise: they think that if they were to try something new, they might not be as good as they previously were, and so are trapped thinking they can only do what they have previously shown they are good at.
Innovation requires getting comfortable with constant change. Not only will you be doing multiple types of tasks, but the idea / product / solution will also change as you validate it and gather feedback from the market.
A growth mindset will help you not only overcome challenges, but become proactive in identifying new ways to improve the innovation further.
Grit is the ability to stick with something even when it would be easier to stop and do something else. Something easier. To leave this bridge unfinished when the water gets rough, and instead to go and start a new one.
It is the capability to get through the hard times.
And trust me, any innovation project will have times when it feels like no progress is being made, or in some cases like you are moving backwards.
But instead of quitting before you are finished, grit allows you to push through those comfort barriers and continue to get closer to the end goal.
This does not mean that every single idea needs to be worked on until it works. Some projects should in fact be stopped, but companies are afraid to because of sunk costs.
Innovation is not just about coming up with new ideas. It is equally about implementing those ideas.
And in order to get the work done in order to implement, you will need to be able to focus.
Focus on the types of activities and work which will actually bring the innovation closer to its end goal.
In today’s environment, it can be too easy to become completely distracted by not only activities which are keeping you busy but not helping you progress. Additionally, it can be hard not to be distracted by the office environment or even your phone when you should be working.
But focus on what the innovation is trying to achieve is also how you will be able to validate and measure progress.
Focus is especially important in determining whether the innovation is meeting the criteria of success for the innovation strategy, or if the work you are doing is taking you off-track.
Fortunately, there are numerous innovation frameworks and theories which can help you and your team prioritise your focus, especially as different tools and techniques are applicable at different stages of the innovation’s lifecycle.
6. Communication (and listening)
Finally, one of the most underrated skills every innovator needs is the ability to communicate.
This is vital in a variety of scenarios every innovator will face.
Not only will you need to communicate with your team about what you are all trying to achieve, but also how success will be measured and how you are doing.
You will need to communicate with the leadership in the company in order to convince them to provide the budget and resources for you to do the innovation work in the first place, and then communicate progress to them in a way which is probably not how they usually track projects in their portfolio.
You will also need to communicate what exactly the innovation is and what value it delivers to the target customers, especially if they are not aware of the solution yet. This perceived value will be different for every type of customer, so you need to be able to communicate to different customer groups with different messages.
And finally, don’t forget that communication is a two-way street. You need to be able to accept communication through effective listening. From your customers when they give feedback about the innovation. From your team about how things are going and what needs to change. And from the company about how they perceive what is going on.
If you can master all of these skills, you are well on your way to being a world-class innovation leader.
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