Innovation begins and ends with people, not a process or recipe.
In its most basic form, innovation implies something new, that solves a customer problem, and creates real value. But peel back the layers and delve deeper, and you’ll find it’s much more than that.
Innovation speaks to our deep-seated desire to improve or expand our lives. It is the great equalizer, giving underdogs not only a chance, but often the advantage. It brings people together. It challenges the status quo. It makes the impossible, possible. And, in the broadest sense, it creates the future.
Yet, these days, I fear that the term innovation is becoming hollow, like the countless corporate buzzwords that have come before it. In fact, it seems that the more we use the word, the less we actually do it. And, worse, the more we try to put it in a neat little box, the more elusive it becomes.
For background, innovation is personal to me. In 1993, I left HP to join Cree, where I spent the next two-and-a-half decades growing the company from a fledgling startup to a global technology superstar. We not only disrupted many industries, but also started an LED lighting revolution that changed how the world thinks about light. Yet, considering our success, it might surprise you that we never really talked about innovation. We just did it.
In reflecting on that time, I’ve come to understand a surprisingly simple truth: Innovation begins and ends with people, not a process or a recipe. And that requires uncovering what I call “the innovator’s spirit”—the mindset that makes innovation possible in the first place.
Unfortunately, our life experiences, by and large, create beliefs and ways of being that actually stymie innovation. Consequently, we tend to avoid risk, abide by best practices, accept the ways things are, and avoid problems at almost any cost—all of which are anathema to innovation.
Want to uncover your own innovator’s spirit? Start by putting these six key traits into practice.
You’ll never solve problems if, first and foremost, you’re not honest about the facts.
Yet, most work cultures prioritize collegiality over candor and constructiveness. As a result, people don’t question or challenge one another, let alone speak truth to power.
So, the next time a colleague proposes something nonsensical in a meeting, call them out. You can expect some pushback, as there’s nothing like a little unvarnished truth to make people uncomfortable. Still, when someone isn’t willing to face the facts, they won’t be very helpful in the pursuit of innovation.
Tip: To dish it out, you also have to take it. Accept others’ candor with grace and an open mind.
As the old saying goes, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Innovation requires cycles of learning, so don’t spin your wheels awaiting an epiphany or aha moment to make the perfect decision or next move. You’ll only lose precious opportunities to grow, learn, and succeed.
So, when sitting on an idea, waiting to eventually perfect it, get over it and show some initiative instead. Put your thinking out there for all to see, and watch what happens. Odds are, you’ll discover that it’s far better to take action and learn from it than to wait on perfection.
Tip: Being directionally correct may not perfect, but it’s good enough.
Innovation is hard, and it’s tempting to give up when things don’t go as intended. But if you’re really serious about innovating, you must be resolute and make success your only option.
So, instead of spending your time on contingency plans in the event that things don’t go according to plan, take a deep breath and stop yourself. Know that something will go wrong, but by abandoning your backup plans, you’ll create the focus required to give you the best chance for success.
Tip: Go all in. Period.
There is no innovation without risk—and failure.
Innovators are obliged to not just be unafraid of failure, but to actually embrace it. As Winston Churchill pronounced, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
So, to build up your courage muscles, put yourself in an especially challenging situation, like signing up for a stretch goal that scares or intimidates you. Once you confront the fear of failure and come out on the other side alive, you’ll realize that there wasn’t much to be afraid of to begin with.
Tip: In innovation, the bigger risk is doing nothing.
Innovation requires strong leadership and a steadfast vision. And that starts with people who rather than aiming to think outside the box, believe that there is no box. In fact, just acknowledging the so-called box creates boundaries and conditions that only limit what’s possible.
So, think about something that most of your colleagues or company is writing off—declaring it impossible. Then make that your mission.
Tip: The best opportunities lie in what others say can’t be done.
It’s natural to want to delegate problem solving, especially as a team or organization grows. Yet, in innovation, some of the most consequential ideas and solutions live within the details. And if you can’t sense or experience that insight, you’ll likely lack the kind of context that leads to success.
Inherently, innovation is messy work, and you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. You have to wholly engage—to put skin in the game—and make it personal.
So, think about the biggest challenge that stands between you and your current goal. Then put that on sticky notes around your desk, or make it the screensaver and wallpaper on your devices, to remind you to engage with it on some level every day.
Tip: Make innovation personal, and you’re guaranteed to get things done.
Like a circle, there is no beginning or end to innovation. And the same goes with the innovator’s spirit. To uncover yours, practice these six traits early and often. You will perpetuate a circle of innovation, pursue the impossible, and perhaps even create the future.
**Originally published at Forbes