October 9, 2011

As the world continues to reflect on Steve Jobs and his epic legacy, I attempt to identify the ingredients that make a true innovator. What can we learn from Steve Jobs in effort to inject a dose of innovation into our fabric?

When I think about the unmatched innovators I respect the most or times when I’ve personally flirted with minor league innovation, a few trends appear in my thoughts. They may seem obvious, clich’e and even appear snoozy on the surface. Yet they’re real, tested and not easy to embrace. Very few people in this world are curious enough or brave enough to cook with these ingredients.

The Adversity Shadow – If innovation were a person, adversity just might be its annoying tagalong sibling. At every turn, adversity follows, tries to trip and block. This has to be a non-issue. The number of loud haters often appears to trump the massive number of quiet supporters who reap the benefits of the innovator. From the very beginning to the very end of the journey, adversity rides shotgun. In the long run, the innovator is unaffected by adversity and just as an annoying sibling grows up and grows into the role of being a big fan of the innovator, so does adversity. The two need each other.

Innovator example: Rick Welts

Captain Non-Conformist – Society’s “perfect” lifestyle templates are another non-issue and probably quite laughable in the eyes of a true innovator. Conforming would be ignorant and irresponsible in the mind of someone who thrives on doing things that have never been done. What other people think about their renegade style is none of their (the innovator’s) business. They become so comfortable in uncomfortable situations that it becomes their normal, which pushes the thrill seekers to take the next uncomfortable step in the innovative direction. An innovator stays relevant by defying tradition, normalcy and what’s expected.

Innovator example: Billie Jean King

Camouflaged Leaders – At first glance, you may not think of innovators as legendary leaders. But you can’t scale good ideas or success if you’re on an island cooking up zany rocket scientist formulas. An innovator’s ideas are the ultimate recruiting tools yet their leadership and quite charisma closes the deal, allowing the masses to justify their choice to follow the trend.

Innovator example: Tony Hsieh

Are innovator’s allergic to anything? Yes. Allergies include:

“That’s not the way we’ve always done it.”

“We can’t do it because we’re not sure if it’s going to work.”

“That can’t be done. It’s been attempted.”

Is an innovator’s differentiating factor simply their intelligence or their character strength and fierce determination to color outside the lines? There are a lot of smart people out there. If it has anything to do with the list above, the world is positioned well because this means we can all be more effective innovators and make a difference. If we choose.

Thank you, Steve Jobs.

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