Over the last two posts in this series, we’ve looked to establish that there are companies who may see the value of innovation, but struggle to bring meaningful innovation to bear, which can create environmental pressures that send innovators into hiding.

In this post, we’ll begin looking at observable behaviors that hidden innovators may be exhibiting. Sometimes these behaviors can seem innocuous, but they can also be a giveaway that savvy leaders should recognize as a trigger to learn more. With a little additional exploration, companies may find that these behaviors can be indicators that a current team member could serve as the catalyst for transformational change. But let’s start at the beginning by gaining a better understanding of why we look at someone’s behavior and then, how behavioral observations may help us better know who the innovators are in our midst.

Why Behavior Matters

Social psychologists believe there are three fundamental and interrelated human capacities that aid us in effectively maintaining and enhancing our lives. Affect (our feelings), Behavior (our actions and interactions), and Cognition (our thoughts) all work together and simultaneously create our human experience. Usually, our first impressions of people are determined through physical attributes and their behavior, while thoughts and feelings are reserved for deeper inquisition and later discovery. Because of this, we rely on a person’s behavior to determine aspects of their personality. He is always on time, so we call him punctual or diligent. She works well under pressure, so we call her confident or reliable. These individuals work well as a team, so we might say they are agreeable, helpful, or collaborative. We see their behavior, interpret it, and make judgments about their character traits, about who they are on a personal level.

This is no different when you are trying to determine who the hidden innovators are around you. Since you already possess this "trait identification" skill to some degree, we want to explore how you might use this skill to start crafting your short list of innovator prospects. Here are some of the core traits we think make up the innovator personality, and some that may start differentiating them as a particular type of innovator. The goal here would be to perk up when you think you see some of these behaviors or traits displayed and dig a little deeper.

Core Innovator Traits

The clear front runner traits of a potential innovator are someone who displays a healthy level of curiosity and creativity. This person will also be open to new ideas and experiences, as well as exhibit a future-oriented disposition, where they are looking towards what’s next. Professionally, their intelligence shines and it shows in the work. They exude a professional confidence in their work, processes, and interactions with others and they do not shy away from solving problems. They are the self-starters in your midst and others can feel their passion when they talk about their projects and hobbies. These core traits set the foundation for innovation and are necessary when you are looking for the innovators around you. Start here first and develop your list of prospects. They should have most of these traits in various degrees. Maybe the environment does not support their creativity and you have to make some educated guesses, but getting to know them and asking about their hobbies might help. Once you have your list of potential innovator prospects, let’s examine how they may approach innovation differently based on the other traits explored next.

Key Differentiator Traits

We hold the fundamental belief that not all innovators are the same and there is power in their diversity. There is no one type of innovator that is better or worse, and they all offer unique strengths to the innovation process. It appears that they break out on individual traits like neuroticism, intuition, emotional intelligence, practicality, and their courageousness in taking chances. We see variations as well on risk aversion, their fear of failing, how they feel about change, and their ability to collaborate with others. They will also exhibit differences in their candor and even the hobbies and interests they probably enjoy. Note, some of these are intrinsic traits that are best understood by knowing and observing an individual and other traits may be better known as they interact with and relate to others.

We are going to explore these traits over the next few blog posts and show you just what we mean. Through examples, we will show you how these traits manifest in not only identifying innovators, but understanding the type of innovator they may be. Once you’ve met all our hidden innovators, we will explore how they interact and what is a good mix when you have them on a team. Again, the goal here is to say potential innovators are not one size fits all and given this, there are probably a few around you that you have not identified just yet.

But before we start, please know that we are excited you are on this journey with us and hope you will weigh in on the series. We want your feedback, want to know what you’ve seen in the team around you, and what behaviors or innovator types you would add to the mix! This is a community social experiment in learning to identify the hidden innovators around us. While we will start the conversation, we hope you will join in and keep it going. At the end of this series, we will combine all the feedback, refine our lists, and will release the new findings. Contributors will get the first look at it, so get ready, because here we go! First up, we will introduce you to Sam, so stay tuned!