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True Innovation, the disruptive kind, takes a lot of many things to bring about. If you look at all the truly disruptive innovations for as far back as you can, you will find that they all have several things in common. Such as having some major discovery in the past, having several failed attempts by several people, having many micro-contributions by many people in the past, being at the right place at the right time, and the list goes on. One profound common element I found is that there are one but no more than two individual characters behind every disruptive innovations. In most cases there is just one driving force (Steve Jobs) and in other cases there is a supporting role (Steve Wozniak). Worlds biggest transformative idea would fall flat on it’s face if it didn’t have that one special individual to push it.
Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, Netscape, Siebel, Inktomi, Intel, Genentech, and most recently, Tesla, Facebook, and Google. All these companies had one or two driving forces that pushed forward and didn’t let anything stop them. They overcame internal and external resistance and refused to accept any facts that would not help their cause.
There are people around the world who are coming up with great ideas and innovating things every day. So why do a handful of innovations become successful and so pervasive in our lives and others wither away? The answer, almost every time, is because of the game changers. The game changers are these one or two individuals that give us iPAD and Tesla. It’s the teenager who has the courage to call up Bill Packard (HP) asking for spare parts and ending up with a summer job. Its the crazy Tesla guy who is drilling a tunnel under Los Angeles. I must share this video again that is so key to this topic. Steve Jobs’ famous “Here’s to the crazy ones” video.
So what is it about these people that make them the game changers? There are numerous articles and books written about this. Below, I offer a list based on what I found to be the most dominant traits of some of the most successful leaders.
- Ability to make long term decisions instead of going for short-term gratification: In life we must choose between what’s right and what’s easy. These individuals always opt for the right, the longer path, the path to delayed gratification. Whether its design decision, product launch criteria, or selecting a set of features to ship.
- Guts to take big risks and put everything on the line: These individuals are masters of taking calculated risks. They ask millions of questions and play the game of chess in their head. But once they are sure about a course of action, there is no deterring them. They take big risks and put everything on the line and sacrifice a lot; their paycheck, their homes, their family lives, friends, comfort, money and more.
- Creativity: These individuals are creative in one or more aspects of their work. Creative in terms of arts, science, money, business, marketing, people, and so on. They sometimes have creative outlets outside of their work.
- Learn (read, observe, collect the dots): They read, observe, think extensively, contemplate, argue, watch. In other words they collect dots, experiences without any agenda or bias.
- Connect the dots: When you listen to these people talk, they spin your head and make you dizzy. They have uncanny talent of being super intuitive and connecting dots that are seemingly unrelated.
- Know thy strengths: These individuals are self-reflecting and know themselves very well. They know who they are, what they want, their purpose, and their strengths and weaknesses. They exploit their strengths to the maximum.
- Resourceful: They have a natural skill for building networks of highly qualified resources and grade A talent. They surround themselves with super smart people. Since they know their strengths and know the gaps, they build a team of complementing skill sets across many disciplines. This is one of the most powerful traits these individuals have.
- Don’t care what other people think: They are oblivious and careless about what people think or say about them.
- They are unreasonable: Meaning they never give excuses. Almost always non-pragmatic.
- They embrace failures:They are not afraid of failing because they know its the best way to learn. They are not afraid to make a decision because they believe that if its the wrong decision they will be quick to course correct.
These unicorns exists in every organization. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are introverts and some are outspoken. Some have huge egos and some are submissive. It may be your computer programmer who plays in the orchestra on weekends or that product manager who’s also a standup comedian. In your organizations you will find athletes, volunteers, and all kinds of artists. You’ll do well to have some of these folks part of your innovation team.