10 Skills Necessary to Innovate

February 10, 2015

By Sharlyn Lauby

In part one of this series on innovation, we discussed whether innovation skills can be taught. As evidenced by the title of this post, you can see I’m in the “yes” innovation skills can be taught camp.

But it raises the question – what exact skills should be focused on? Fortunately or unfortunately, there are a lot. Innovation isn’t a single skill but more of a compilation of many skills, and not always in equal share. Here’s my list of the skills needed to innovate: 

Self-management: While the rest of this list is in alphabetical order, I wanted to put self-management at the top. When we talk about skills development, people need to know how they enjoy learning. Part of self-management is understanding the best way to learn a new skill. 

Curation: I call this skill being able to sift through mountains of data and information. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, shutting down the innovation process. Curation helps us find the right information to enhance the process. 

Decision making: After curation, it’s essential to make good decisions with the information you’ve gathered. Knowing the difference between individual and group decisions is key. 

Empathy: Innovation is about change. Successful innovation means understanding the change being created. Demonstrating empathy and putting yourself in the shoes of the people affected is an important part of the innovative process. 

Leadership: My definition of leadership is the ability to influence others. Innovation is all about leadership. Influencing others to believe in the new idea or concept. Influencing others to support the new idea. And influencing others to adopt the new concept. 

Problem solving: Any innovation will have some hiccupps along the way. Being able to work through those challenges is essential to the overall process. Good problem solving leads to good decision making. 

Project management: Obviously, skills like problem solving and decision making are components of project management. But the art of project management is making sure that an idea or concept is brought to reality on time, within budget, and to quality specifications. Every innovation needs that. 

Systems thinking: Innovation cannot be accomplished in a silo. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things are connected and related. If you’re going to create something new (i.e., innovate), then you have to know how that new idea fits into – or disrupts – the system. 

Verbal communication: I separated verbal and written communication skills because I didn’t want to just say – communicate better. Being able to articulate new ideas. Creating buy-in for new concepts. Leading a group through the innovation process takes excellent verbal communication skills. 

Written communication: Innovation involves documentation. This aligns with project management. Any team focused on innovation will want to keep notes about how a new idea started, took shape, and was ultimately implemented. 

Organizations that are looking to become more innovative should think about how their employees are learning these skills. They also need to create a work environment that encourages employees to use these skills regularly. And lastly, companies need to recognize and reward employees for using these skills on a regular basis.

« Return to press room