Innovation is a leadership issue. It is the CEO that sets the rhythm to which the organisation dances, and unless the CEO’s mindset is focused on innovation, it is unlikely that the business will be particularly innovative.

But why are some business leaders naturally and effortlessly able to guide their organisations to develop products and services that customers never knew they needed, while others struggle to keep up with me-too offerings? The chart below sets out the three factors that give innovators their ability to drive change and action:

  1. A Passion for Uniqueness. Innovators are driven. They want to make a difference to the world and aren’t shy about letting people know about it. Without passion, nothing will ever get started.
  2. Ruthless Objectivity. Innovators face the facts. They don’t delude themselves, but take a learning-based attitude that allows them to keep what’s working and ditch what isn’t.
  3. Fearless Persistence. Innovators keep on keeping on. Never giving up in the face of repeated failure is the hallmark of all great innovators. Some of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs were surveyed on what drove their success. Their #1 answer was their ability to continue to ‘experiment fearlessly’ – and that means persistence.
If these three characteristics are critical to successful innovation, where are you on the chart?
  1. Dabblers. These people have the energy and passion to generate ideas and the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff. However, they don’t have the discipline, resilience or the fearlessness to persist.
  2. Blind Obsessives. These people have the energy to get started and will carry on trying. However, they are blinded to the realities of their experiments and are unable or unwilling to learn from them. Consequently, their ideas seldom make it to successful outcomes, and their mistakes can be expensive.
  3. Implementers. These people have objectivity and persistence, but are unable to lead. They are great supporters and ‘right-hand women’ but don’t have the passion to get things started, build early momentum and engage others.
  4. Fast-Lane Innovators. These people are the ones who turn ideas into innovation. They combine vision, energy, an ability to learn and adapt and the chutzpah to make things happen and can seemingly overcome any obstacles put in their way. Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Howard Schultz, Richard Branson, Anita Roddick and James Dyson all immediately come to mind.

True fast-lane innovators may not be the easiest people in the world to work with, but they are the heroes that keep driving our species’ amazing progress. How well do you compare to them on the 3 innovation attributes, and what attributes and behaviours do you need to develop and focus on to become a more effective innovation leader?