Exploring the Traits of Successful Innovators: 4 Characteristics to Adopt

By squarles on January 8, 2019 in Engineering


A new year means new opportunities for innovation – original ideas, improved solutions, and updated products are bound to shape 2019 just as they have in years past. Great minds like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos are a dime a dozen, shaping life as we know it, and there are four traits shared by these successful innovators that you can adopt into your work. Here are the four characteristics that will help you think like an innovator and make an impact.

1.      An Opportunistic Mindset

Founder of Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford, famously said, “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” An opportunistic mindset allows innovators to identify gaps in the market. Opposed to seeing the world in black and white, they’re able to instead create solutions to problems that others may already consider solved. Opportunists crave new and unique experiences, pushing them towards entrepreneurship and innovation.


A great example is Elon Musk. Throughout his career, Musk has developed a variety of businesses striving to take pre-existing products to the next level. With payment service PayPal, Musk revolutionized online purchases and in his next company, Tesla, he was able to create an eco-friendly car unlike any of its predecessors. His other business ventures, including SpaceX and Neuralink, are similar in that they overlook conventional boundaries.

2.      Perseverance

It’s been shown that effective innovators are more driven, resilient, and energetic than their counterparts. They typically have intense, unyielding focus, sometimes at the expense of other aspects of their lives. Not deterred by setbacks or obstacles that could break others, innovators use challenges as fuel to keep creating, often overcoming numerous failures to bring their vision to life.

Business magnate and co-founder of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs, saw his fair share of trials and tribulations. Within the first decade of Apple’s launch, Jobs was fired after facing intense public scrutiny. Despite having an uncertain future and seemingly losing years of hard work, Jobs was determined to succeed. He developed a new rival computer company – NeXT. Although the company never found its niche audience, Apple did end up purchasing the business, bringing Jobs back to the Apple corporation after 12 years. Eventually, Jobs would reign as CEO, furthering the empire that would ultimately become America’s first trillion-dollar company.

3.      A Passion for Education

Contrary to popular belief, most successful innovators aren’t college dropouts. Instead, many are well-trained experts in their field who have received in-depth formal education and training. Without expertise, deciphering between relevant and irrelevant ideas and information becomes increasingly difficult. They also realize the importance of mentorship and professional development opportunities for their employees – new ideas and implementation are critical to a business’ success. In bringing others along on their journey, innovators are able to construct full teams of forward-thinkers, capable of making great discoveries and advancements.

Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors, has always deeply valued education and teaching others throughout his career. After attending the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Nebraska, Buffett went to Columbia University for business school and became a millionaire at just 32 years old. Throughout his life, he gave back to students, even teaching an investment principles course at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in his younger days. He’s also given numerous commencement speeches, including at Ivy League schools like Stanford.

4.      Social Capital

Innovators rely on their connections and networks to build alliances and propel their ideas. With the right support, they’re able to mobilize resources as well as fund their ventures. Many innovators are seen as independent entities, but in truth, new endeavors require the work of teams. Innovators often have higher emotional intelligence, enabling them to communicate, strategize, and sell their ideas. Social capital can be more valuable to the success of a company than actual cash.

Today, Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, is a household name, but in order to achieve that level of fame, he leveraged his social capital. With the assistance of Harvard classmate Peter Allen, Gates established Microsoft. Their first major accomplishment came when they struck a lucrative deal with IBM, more than doubling their sales in a year. Developing relationships with critical industry players was huge for Microsoft, ultimately solidifying them as one of the most dominant computer manufacturers in the world.

Exploring the Traits of Successful Innovators

Being a successful innovator doesn’t have to mean sending a rocket to space or becoming the first trillion-dollar company in the US. There are thousands of smaller, lesser-known organizations that are developing or advancing cutting-edge technologies. Our country’s economic prosperity relies on our ability to create opportunities through innovation. By adopting these strategies, you’re sure to propel your organization.

Innovation starts with having the right team. Let us help you find the talent, or organization, to get you there.

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