What are the main qualities of innovators? How are innovators so creative?
To achieve and maintain success in the digital era, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s book Bold argues that entrepreneurs must become exponential innovators. This means adopting a ceaseless commitment to creating daring and novel ideas.
Below we’ll explain the major psychological strengths that innovators must have to succeed.
Psychological Strengths of Innovators
According to the authors of Bold, to become an exponential innovator, you must first develop the qualities of innovators that will allow you to handle the high-stress commitment to innovation and exponential growth. These strengths will also allow you to successfully perform innovators’ habits. This article will explore each of these strengths and how you can maintain them.
Quality #1: Think Unconventionally and Autonomously
The authors explain that to create something truly novel that effects major change in the world, an innovator needs to think unconventionally—beyond the limits of what’s currently possible. Further, unconventional thinking requires the ability to think autonomously—without being fazed by the doubts and restraints of society. For example, wireless technology wouldn’t exist if innovators listened to the public opinion that it was simply a science fiction fantasy. Instead, innovators ignored societal doubts and changed the world.
(Shortform note: In Zero to One, Peter Thiel agrees that unconventional and autonomous thinking is one of the hallmarks of a great innovator. In his view, most people fail to develop novel ideas because they think all the questions in the world have either been answered or are unanswerable. To foster unconventional and autonomous thinking, Thiel recommends making a list of truths that no one else knows about—he calls these “secrets.” To uncover “secrets,” ask: What questions do mainstream people refuse to address or investigate? What do they overlook?)
Quality #2: Be Comfortable With Risks and Failure
Most people are afraid of taking risks because doing so introduces the potential for failure and loss. However, the authors explain that repeated risk-taking and failure are keys to successful innovation—you might have to try 20 different ideas before you find the one that works best.
(Shortform note: Experts explain that one of the best ways to get comfortable with risks and failure is to develop a growth mindset. People with growth mindsets focus on hope, improvement, and effort rather than on outcome and performance—the two factors that often contribute to issues like the fear of risks and failure. You can read more about developing a growth mindset in our guide to Mindset by Carol S. Dweck.)
Quality #3: Know Your Purpose
The authors explain that the most successful innovators all have one thing in common: an underlying purpose that shapes their values and drives their innovations. Having a purpose that you’re passionate about provides you with motivation in uncertain times and the confidence needed to take big risks.
(Shortform note: Many business experts agree that having passion and having purpose are vital traits in a successful innovator. However, they warn of confusing passion with competence. Passion about a certain idea can make you overconfident, causing you to overestimate your competence—having passion doesn’t necessarily mean you have the skills and resources necessary to succeed. To avoid this trap, develop “innovation bipolarity”—the ability to argue passionately for your idea while, at the same time, honestly assessing the risks and barriers in your way, whether they’re surmountable, and what can be done to overcome them.)
Maintain Psychological Strengths With Inspiring Facts and Principles
The authors propose that you can maintain these psychological strengths by creating a list of inspiring facts and principles about innovation. When tough circumstances make you doubt yourself, you can revisit this list to rekindle your innovator’s mindset and remind yourself of the strengths needed to succeed.
For example, recording a fact such as “turning a tree into a table must have seemed impossible until someone made it happen” can remind you of the importance of Strength #1—something that seems impossible can be accomplished through unconventional and autonomous thinking.
(Shortform note: In Principles: Life and Work, Ray Dalio agrees that creating principles is one of the best ways to maintain your strengths and achieve success. He adds that the most effective principles reflect your inner character (or personality) and individual values—these principles let people know what you stand for, help you manage difficult situations, and set you up for success. Effective principles should also be refined and perfected in an interactive loop: Set goals, follow your principles to achieve them, make mistakes along the way, reflect on your mistakes, adjust your principles and develop new ones, and then set bigger goals and repeat.)