THE INNOVATOR’S DNA AND THE PRACTICE OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Innovation – like the” iPad”, you know it when you can hold in your hand but like “beauty”, don’t ask what it is or how to make it happen.

For economic developer practitioners and those who fancy themselves as entrepreneurship facilitators, innovation is important.  It’s economic gardening – the current government mantra for job creation as a means to reduce unemployment by creating high-wage jobs to improve household wealth.

Go to any bookstore business section and you will find more than a dozen titles, all telling their story on how you and your company or organization needs innovation to compete in the global economy and, by the way create jobs.

But more importantly, to the economic developer practitioner, is can we identify how to innovate and how do I get innovation to happen in my community.

This is where “THE INNOVATOR’S DNA – MASTERING THE FIVE SKILLS OF DISRUPTIVE INNOVATORS” will help.  Authors Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Claton M. Christensen explain skills that can cause innovation to happen.

With the notion that we can identify personal behavior skills that cause innovation, we can then apply them in a directed pathway increasing the opportunity to identify new products and services resulting in business investment and new jobs.

Let’s examine each of the skills and how economic developers may wish to apply them.

But first, we have to agree on a basic principal – innovators think differently and act differently….creating a curiosity that results in changed behaviors.

The good news, according to the authors, is if we change our behaviors we can improve our “creative curiosity” and creative impact.

Another words – CHANGED BEHAVIORS = MORE INNOVATION

Now that’s a powerful statement one that can be used to develop a community program to stimulate business innovation resulting in new business investment and jobs.

This is great news to economic developers seeking to create innovative communities.

If “two-thirds of our innovation skills come through learning – from first understanding the skill, then practicing it and ultimately gaining confidence in our ability to create”, than innovation can be taught on a communitywide basis leading to greater innovation and increased business investment resulting more and better paying jobs.

The behavioral traits –

 1. Questioning

Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquire frequently challenging the status quo.  They show a high Q/A ratio where questions (Q) out number answers (A) in a typical conversation.

 2. Observing

Innovators are intense observers – the world around them, customer behavior, new technologies, and new products and services.  These observations provide them insights into new ideas on how to do things.

 3. Networking

Innovators spend time testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals of varied backgrounds and perspectives.  They tend to seek out comments and reactions from a wide group of people that, at times, may have radically different viewpoints.

 4. Experimenting

Innovators are not just “thinkers” but actually try-out new ideas.  They test hypotheses and seek new information and continue to experiment to learn new things.  They hold that questioning, observing, networking and experimenting are discovery skills that together identify new ideas.

 5. Associational thinking

Innovators routinely see the essential features of an idea and make surprising connections across areas of knowledge – connecting the unconnected knowledge producing innovative business ideas.  Successful innovators are always “on the hunt” for new associations that will create combinations of diverse knowledge, experience and personal perspectives

 6. Challenge the status quo

Innovators believe in economist Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction” and thus actively challenge the status quo. Schumpeter popularized in the 1950, the theory of challenging the status quo reformulating conventional thinking by associating existing and new knowledge and technology thus creating economic innovation.  Innovators are unafraid or inhibited in rebuffing “the notion – because we did it that way in the past, we’ll do it that way in the future”.  They see “many things broken and want to fix them”.

 7. Taking risks

Innovators are “risk takers” unafraid of failure and actually promote failure a part of the process of experimenting to achieve success.  They feel personally responsible for “coming-up” with ideas and innovation solutions.

A Last Thought on Innovation and the Practice of Economic Development

Innovation begins with you.  You can change your behavior to become more innovative.

For the economic practitioner this is good news.

By asking yourself some simple questions such as, am I good at generating ideas, can I find  and “friend” innovative people, can I get myself and colleagues to “think outside the box” you too, can begin the process of being a better innovator.

If you find yourself struggling with “frank and honest “answers cheer-up, the authors state you can change your behavior and become more creative. 

This also holds true for economic development organizations which many economic development practitioners staff on a daily basis. 

As stated earlier, if two-thirds of innovation skills come through better understanding of behavioral traits that inspire innovation, this knowledge coupled with a program to incorporate change should result in new innovative ideas fostering economic development success.

The challenge before the economic development practitioner is not more business subsidies, tax forgiveness or other business aid but changing the communitywide behavior of individuals to become more innovative thus producing innovative business ideas resulting in new business investment and jobs.

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