Check out these ten intelligent ways that innovative people think and act differently!
1. They pay attention to patterns.
Specifically, they utilize Apophenia, the ability to perceive patterns within random data to help point them toward relationships and potential problems. This tendency is tied, by necessity, to strong powers of observation. If you’re paying attention to what’s happening around you, you’re bound to notice a few patterns.
That’s a human tendency, after all. However, there are some people who see patterns in random happenings more than the average person. This ability to perceive a large number of patterns also allows for the ability to see potential problems before they are realized. People endowed with this ability often make excellent innovators and leaders.
However, Slate writer Katy Waldman points out that drawing too many connections can create its own problems:
“So apophenia cuts both ways – it’s a profoundly human habit of mind that can underlie adaptive behaviors and reward flights of fancy, or induce all kinds of paranoia and silliness.”
In fact, in its extreme form apophenia can signal the presence of schizophrenia – definitely not a desirable diagnosis. One example is the story of Bobby Fischer, recently documented in the historically-based film “Pawn Sacrifice.” Fischer was a chess champion whose thinking devolved into conspiratorial thinking and paranoia, but he was also a genius who very likely utilized apophenia to predict a significant number of moves that could be made during his chess matches.
2. They analyze data on a large scale.
After observing the patterns mentioned above, they funnel that tendency into concrete terms via analysis of data on a massive scale – or ‘big data.’ For example, D.J. Patil, the first resident data scientist of the White House, has stated that one of his main goals is to offer a “vision on how to provide maximum social return on federal data.” This goal is a very innovative one, and it serves as a positive signal to U.S. citizens that their government is trying to utilize the data being collected on them for something positive and useful – as opposed to stereotypes about the NSA and other breaches of privacy in the news.
3. They embrace high-risk situations.
For example, they derive funding from venture capital in order to help them fund new business ventures, a practice that is high risk but carries much potential for pay-offs and rewards.
Robert Mooradian, professor of Finance at Northeastern University, recently discussed venture capital as something that’s helping to support innovation:
“These big corporate structures don’t do as well in terms of getting new innovations started, in terms of developing new innovations, so most of these public companies are active in seeking out these kinds of targets [for acquisition].”
Because the startups involved in venture capital investments and funding have few financial assets, the investments are financially high-risk. However, these innovative startups often have a great deal of intellectual capital, a trait that is very attractive to venture capitalists. Another advantage to deriving funding from venture capitalists is the inherent publicity built in to sharing a project with the type of people who tend to invest in promising new startups is that those investors often carry a great deal of clout with fellow influencers with financial capital.
4. They are very curious.
Because they are very curious, they are interested in learning as much as they can from people and situations around them. They also seek out new information via recreational reading and conducting informal research on topics that interest them. Basically, they’re autodidacts: they love to learn on their own, without any external encouragement or traditional class structure needed.
In addition to traditional library-based research for new information, they also view every conversation as an opportunity to learn something new. They recognize that every individual is unique and has their own knowledge to offer to those willing to seek it out.
5. They are excellent listeners who are very empathetic.
That is, not only are they good at listening well to people and truly hearing what they have to say, but they also are able to mentally and emotionally put themselves in the speaker’s proverbial shoes, imagining what it would be like to live through the situation being presented to them. They have, in other words, a high degree of emotional intelligence. This ability lends credence to the listener, from the speaker’s perspective. As a result, good listeners make very good managers, since working side-by-side – metaphorically speaking – is often much more motivating for employees than working with a top-down approach.
6. They are persistent.
That is, while they strive for perfection, they continue going forward, regardless of obstacles or pauses in the momentum of their progress. The statistics about Abraham Lincoln come to mind. As this article interestingly points out, Lincoln’s successes were as numerous as his failures; it was because of his persistence, in fact, that he was able to succeed. Inevitably, a large number of attempts will include a certain number of failures – due to imperfection and statistical chance, among other factors. If you fail to try a substantial number of times, however, your effort is bound to yield fewer successes than if you’d put in a few more attempts.
7. They are inherently creative and understand the creative process.
Take, for another example, the writer’s life, which requires an enormous amount of patience, considering the time and dedication that a book necessitates. Some of the best advice my thesis advisor ever gave me was the following succinct imperative: “Don’t rush.”
Yes, it’s possible to finish a book in a year, but why would you want to do that? It would likely be less impressive than the same document more thoroughly revised and sat with for a more substantial amount of time – so as to allow the ideas and images to sufficiently percolate and develop. This is the nature of the creative process. It demands a sort of two steps forward, one step back kind of approach that inevitably involves a great deal of ‘muddling,’ or experimentation.
8. They embrace paradoxical thinking.
The rejection of either/or thinking is one of the most crucial elements that go into good critical thinking.
As number ten on this list reminds us, “Great innovators do not see the world in black and white. While many people come to “either/or” conclusions, they strive to see “both/and.”
This idea reminds me of Walt Whitman’s lines from section 51 of “Song of Myself” that argue so passionately for complexity:
“Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
The greatest thinkers are always keenly aware of the value of paradox and complexity in all things.
9. They are non-conformists.
In other words, good innovators choose to avoid what everyone else is doing and set out on their own, instead. Take Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack who was recently named 2015 Technology Innovator by Wall Street Journal magazine. Slack is a new chat room app that has become wildly popular and has apparently become “the fastest-growing business application of all time.” That’s quite an achievement.
Yet the concept is simple: provide a chat room environment that feels more spacious – its virtual ‘rooms’ are larger than those of Google messenger, for example – while also providing a convenient, flexible, and interactive way for colleagues to share files. With those characteristics, Slack combines the best features of email and IM platforms. It also adds characteristics of social sharing sites like Facebook by enabling emoji-style reactions to conversation channels. The result is a messaging app that doesn’t conform in the slightest.
10. They are “human, yet highly resilient.”
A recent article by Kim Booth emphasizes several different traits often found in innovative leaders, and one of them was the ability to show resilience in the face of opposition and setbacks. Inherent resilience is a highly desirable trait for someone to have, especially when surrounded by people who might be scared or confused. This is a wonderful leadership quality that comes in handy especially during times of uncertainty or chaos – such as corporate restructuring, or a company move to a new building.
During times like these, it’s important to have a leader who provides an example of idealistic, resilient thinking; providing this type of example inspires endurance and courage in others, as well as unique, innovative ways to deal with hardship and uncertainty. In fact, sometimes it is uncertainty that allows for the most innovative kinds of thinking: what is there to lose, after all, when there’s nowhere to go but up?
Next time you’re stuck and having trouble moving forward on a project or personal goal, try changing direction with a new approach taken from one of the ten ideas listed above. Let me know how it goes in the comments below!