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The Innovation Mindset

June 20, 2011

“Innovative” is often seen as a quality that a person either has or doesn’t have, they either are innovative or they aren’t. Yes, innovative people have qualities which make them see the world differently, but it is not so elusive. Anyone can have the innovation mindset. All it takes is to be observant and insightful.

Be observant. 

Don’t go through life staring down at your shoes and try not to always have your head in the clouds either. Keep your eyes and ears open and you’ll pick up on so many little things. Even things about business. Most of us engage in multiple transactions a day. Your trip to buy your morning cup of coffee or the next time you fill up the gas tank could teach you something. At the cafe, observing the cashier relay your order to the barista and how different employees interact could tell you about managerial relationships or operational flow. A trip to the pharmacy could teach you about inventory management and customer relations.

To practice observing like an innovator:

  • Set aside a certain amount of time each day and just people watch. Maybe even just as you’re standing in the checkout line at the supermarket, observe the people in line around you.
  • Focus on just one sense. Wear headphones and just use your eyes while walking down the street. Or close your eyes and just focus on what you can hear. Alter your perspective for a change.


Being insightful means taking your observations and relating them back to you and whatever problems you may be working on. But even if your problem is reducing shipping costs of your product, you may not find that solution simply by being observant in the world of shipping costs. You need a holistic view and truly innovative people are constantly observing and analyzing every aspect of life. Notice patterns and draw from all people and places.

Being insightful also means that you have to take this observant quality and apply it inward as well as outward. Notice things that you yourself do habitually that maybe affect your productivity. Is there anything in the office that inhibits collaboration or communication? Innovations don’t have to be a new feature on a product or a whole new line of services. Positive changes which drive profit or ultimately improve a customer’s or the shareholders’ experience can be made internally, behind the scenes.

Innovators stay on their toes and are always thinking, always active. These are qualities which anyone can emulate. “Innovation” is an abstract and intangible word but it is not impossible to achieve. What other qualities do you think distinguish innovators?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2011 9:23 pm

    I really like this post for many reasons. It’s refreshing to hear the matter of defining ‘innovative-ness’ put so simply and in a way that actually leaves the door open for people to join in and learn to become innovators.

    I agree wholeheartedly with this perspective. I also practice this very method of sharpening my innovative and analytical skills through observation. Specifically, I have a weekly blog called ‘UX Observer’ ( where I present observations in the form of four images with brief captions.

    Just being committed to posting on a weekly basis forces me to be observant about as many things as possible on a daily basis. It’s a great form of ‘creative calisthenics’.

    Thanks for posting this Shawna.

    • Shawna permalink*
      June 22, 2011 3:09 pm

      Love the term ‘creative calisthenics.’ With enough mental workout, these things can become second nature. But yes, I guess the point of the post is to show people that innovation is not a matter of nature but a matter of nurture. It’s not set at birth but can be grown inside of anyone. Thanks for the feedback!

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