Five characteristics that define successful innovators

Five characteristics that define successful innovators

There is no consensus when it comes to what makes a successful innovator. A certain degree of creativity is a requirement, that’s for sure, but other than that, very few feel confident enough to pinpoint the exact characteristics – without the proper research, of course. Studies have shown that some people, regardless of their field of activity, experience, job title, or professional background, tend to display a similar set of characteristics.

Creative people; innovators included, tend to be better at identifying problems rather than in solving them. They are also very passionate and on a constant lookout for new experiences. They are curious, sensitive, and nonconformist by nature.  

Creativity, alone, will not result in an innovative person, let alone, a successful one. The main difference between creativity and innovation is execution. It is safe to say that many creative ideas are thought of around the world on a daily basis, yet, only a select few will come to fruition. So; what set of characteristics genuinely define successful innovators?

Sensing Opportunity

As it so happens, successful innovators have a knack for identifying gaps in the market they operate in. Having an opportunistic mindset allows these people to be more alert and seek novelty wherever they can find it. They are the kind of person that crave new and complicated experiences, always trying to have as much variety in their lives as possible.  

Proper Training & Education

Contrary to popular belief and a few successful examples, college dropouts do not make for great innovators. Well-trained experts with formal education, years of training, and experience do, however. Research has shown that proper education and entrepreneurship training will pay off since it’s only after years of experience in the field that people can make the adequate distinction between what’s relevant information and what’s not.  

Proactivity & Persistence

It would only make sense that these two qualities taken together would make it on this list. As we’ve said before, creativity will only turn to innovation through execution. But there cannot be any execution of ideas if the person who has them isn’t proactive and persistent. Being resilient in the face of obstacles, challenges, and adversity is a defining factor that differentiates great innovators from the rest.  


Another trait strongly linked to experience is prudence. Even though we like to think of innovators as risk takers, in reality, they are the exact opposite. The misconception may arise because we, the general population, do not fully comprehend the amount of thought and analysis that went into a decision before it was made, concluding that it was a gamble on their part. Nevertheless, successful innovators show a high degree of caution, organization, and risk aversion as compared to the general public.  

Emotional Intelligence

At times, Innovators are portrayed as individualistic geniuses and independent spirits that come up with all sorts of revolutionary ideas on their own. Though as attractive as this prospect may be, thanks in large part to Hollywood, the reality of the matter is that innovation is almost always the product of teamwork. 

You will often encounter great innovators networking with people of different backgrounds and areas of expertise, bouncing ideas off of them and building alliances, both within the company and outside. Well-developed emotional intelligence plays a vital role here, as well as in selling their ideas to others and when coordinating with their teams.  


Being creative is a requirement for great innovation, but it will not get you very far unless it’s backed by these other traits presented here. Luckily, however, all of them, including creativity, are characteristics that can be learned and are not something that only a select group of people are born with.

Question to reflect: How many of these characteristics do you have?


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