Innovators can do everything?

Been reading an interesting article about innovation and innovators today. It was published in the Harvard Business Review, titled: "Finding and grooming breakthrough Innovators" (Dec. 2008) by Jeffrey Cohn, Jon Katzenbach and Gus Vak.

The article is a good read. However, one part of the article is buzzing through my head. It's about the profile of an innovator (so companies know what kind of person to look for and cultivate them). This is what it says about 'innovators':

The best innovators have very strong cognitive abilities, including excellent analytical skills. (...)

First, they never rest on their laurels. (...) "They are driven by a certain underlying insecurity to not rely on past success, and they evaluate each new challenge with a clean slate." (...)

Second, potential innovators are, as Small puts it, "ridiculously socially aware of their surroundings at all times." (...) They leverage ... information to craft and communicate a message that resonates with every constituent. This is the art of bringing a diverse group onto the same page - and it is absolutely essential to transforming an interesting idea into a companywide innovation. (...)

Innovators are persuasive and often charming. (...) Then, on the flip side, our innovators have to use their skills and charm to push an unproven idea through our corporate machinery. I can't overstate how important and how rare this sales ability is.

There is, of course, a certain tension between an innovator's independent mind and his or her social involvement with colleagues, but the ability to seamlessly shift between isolation and a larger group is essential.

Wow, this is a breath-taking list. In short it says: the innovator is perfect, he/she has got it all. I agree with this list, but I don't think that an innovator has to have all these characteristics in one person. It could also be that these are spread out over more than one person. I do know some people that seem to fit the list perfectly and they are truly unique people that should be cultivated by the company they work for. But also the lesser gods, that have several, but not all characteristics should be supported as well. And helps to fill in the gaps in the list to make them just as successful and the perfect innovator.

I'm curious if you agree with me!

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  1. Spot on Samuel. Typical American "I"-literature. My judgement? Nonsense.

    For two reasons by the way. The profile described more resembles SOME inventors. Not innovators.

    Secondly. Innovators as a person don't exist. Reason is simple. Innovation must be defined as realising a change in the value system of the market/public. No-one can do that alone (anymore?). Not even a single company. Yes there can be a first(visibible) mover, for example the Grameen Bank with Microcredits, but even they need other banks to step in to make the idea succesful in the end.

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