Leader Volume 9, Number 9
the Habit of Innovation
Canterucci, founder of Transition Management Advisors (phone
614.899.9044 or www.corpchange.com), is an
executive advisor and professional speaker on the subjects of
change leadership and innovation. To subscribe to his free email
newsletter, ADVISORY, email email@example.com.
To most of us,
innovation is a process executed at “special” times when we
need to break new ground. Ironically, at those times, we’re
usually too rusty to be innovative. Why should we save our best
efforts for rare occasions?
For some people
innovation is a habit. They are usually the most satisfied,
ingenious (regardless of natural intelligence), and high-achieving
people. Four distinguishing traits work in tandem to set habitual
innovators apart: awareness, curiosity, focus, and initiative.
these traits, you will cultivate the habit of innovation. This
will empower you to succeed--by your standards and on your terms.
reacting and thinking repels innovation. The first trait integral
to the habit of innovation is awareness--of yourself and external
self-aware, start noticing your thoughts--where they are and how
they affect your emotions and actions. Think in the present to
catch fleeting opportunities, as well as to detect subtle signals
of trouble. Don’t get caught up in your thoughts, including
opinions about yourself. They may not be “reality.”
Self-awareness can be uncomfortable. We learn early to avoid pain
by not thinking about what bothers us. Notice your tendency to
pull away from where you need to look.
become more aware:
• Accept different perspectives. Each of us has a context for
our views and behavior. The more perspectives you consider, the
more choices you will have about how to respond. But find a
balance, neither clinging white-knuckled to your own views nor
letting others define you and your behavior.
• Use all your senses.
• Look closely at processes, considering how and why things are
done. Notice how obstacles are part of the process, not a negative
• Peel back the layers, avoiding sweeping statements. Instead
of “Oh no--here comes another change in the workplace,” for
example, consider what you fear. Forging new relationships? The
loss of control? Changes to your routines? Having to be a novice
again? Being specific indicates ways you can have power over a
situation. This skill will help you communicate with others, too.
seamlessly from awareness. Once you open yourself to the nuances
of life, it’s hard not to find things that fascinate you.
To be curious,
you must give yourself the freedom to risk and make mistakes.
Interestingly, curiosity requires trust--trust that each person
and each situation has something to teach you. Even when there’s
no immediate practical application of the things you learn,
you’re training creative muscles that innovators keep well
jump-starts the habit of innovation by taking you to deeper levels
of knowing and helping you to relate to others.
• Routinely seek opinions from people who have no experience
with the subject. These can be the most refreshing sources of new
information, since they are not entrenched in assumptions and
• Seek alternative solutions, even when all is well. This gives
you fallback positions.
• Try new things. Even if they don’t work out, you’ll learn
lessons to apply elsewhere.
• When you have a problem, work like a detective. Ask
questions. Look at everything. Seek out experts for their views.
Do your own research.
• Notice and eliminate assumptions. They’re usually wrong,
yet we accept them as “fact.”
• Fire your inner judge. Give ideas time to percolate before
• “Browse” everywhere--at the library or newsstand, at
friends’ homes, even with the yellow pages. Explore new places
and types of information. Take different routes.
• Ask questions of people you encounter--find out what they do
and what else they do. Find out how their activities fit into the
world and how their interest began.
curiosity expand your options, but once you move toward a
solution, you need to focus--to go beneath the surface and give
full attention to what you’re doing.
Regardless of the
task, focus pays. In Finding
Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that people feel
especially uncomfortable when they act by default and without
improve your focus:
• Fine-tune its intensity. Focus gently and guard against
obsession. Allow time for ideas to simmer while you do other
• Direct your focus appropriately. Find a balance between
physical and cerebral pursuits, easy and challenging activities,
and solitude and activities with others. Let go of things that sap
your energy. Prioritizing helps you to be sure you’re focusing
on the right things.
• Really listen to others with focus. So often, we go through
the motions and miss opportunities to learn. What are the
person’s eyes telling you? Body language?
Is it consistent with the words you’re hearing?
us to what’s going on, curiosity lets us gather ideas, and focus
lets us nurture particular ideas. But the innovative spirit
without action is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest
with no one to hear it. Initiative to act gives purpose and
momentum to the habit of innovation.
Imagine a Spring
Training invitee who has studied baseball for decades, soaking up
information, asking questions and chasing answers, and focusing on
how to hit against each pitcher. But once at the plate, he never
takes the bat off his shoulders. Not once. Finally, he is cut from
incapable of action would never make it to Spring Training,” you
might say. Exactly! Capability without initiative does not
translate into results.
You no doubt know
gifted people who lack initiative. They languish in jobs they
hate, have ideas they never pursue, or are perpetual students,
never venturing into the world. It’s easy to see that they need
initiative, but what about you? You have frequent
once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. How many are you seizing?
Why do we avoid
taking initiative? In a word, fear. We’re afraid of putting
ourselves out there, of failing, of risking, of looking stupid.
Eventually, we must decide that our goals matter more than our
• Define your goals, whether they’re making a six-figure
income, getting a higher position, finding a job in your favorite
city, or achieving all your assignments with excellence. Then do
what it takes to propel yourself toward those goals.
• Make your environment motivating. Change what saps your
energy. Surround yourself with natural light, people who inspire
you, quotes or photos.
• Become optimistic, looking for the positive lessons, the good
in others and yourself, the win-win solutions. Visualize yourself
• Take risks, which bring increased confidence.
• Use awareness to assess the impact of all you do. Measure
actions by impact; small actions can have great results.
• Live so that you will have no regrets about paths not taken
and actions undone.
It Together: The Habit of Innovation
While each of
these traits is worth pursuing, the power comes for those who
combine them into the habit of innovation.
Consider the late
Charles Schulz. The Peanuts
comic strip resonates with a broad audience, thanks largely to his
awareness of everything from applied psychology to the way adults
sound to children. After his death, Billie Jean King described
Schulz’s curiosity--how he called her to ask questions about
tennis competition. “He would probe and probe and probe, ask
questions all the time.” Extreme focus is apparent in the
unforgettable characters and stories he created. And he had the
initiative to persevere when an editor decided to stop publishing
his comic strip five decades ago--and to continue touching lives
long after he could have retired. His daughter said it was no
coincidence that he died just as his final strip was being
With the habit of
innovation, you too will use your unique abilities to make a
difference. Awareness and curiosity will illuminate your life,
focus will direct your ideas, and initiative will push you to