Skip main navigation

What do innovators do?

In this video, Dave Jarman briefly explains a number of things that he feels successful innovators often do, or often are.
What do innovators do? Or rather, what do ‘successful’ innovators do differently to the rest of humanity that sets them apart? It’s important to break down the notion of a successful innovator here. Within that category are brilliant scientists whose insightful breakthroughs open up new fields of opportunity. But there are also the business leaders, campaigners, politicians and educators, who enable those insights to reach a wider audience and gain real traction in a wider world. There are fundamentally different types of innovation, of which we’ll say more elsewhere in the course, and different types of innovator. Can you sensibly compare artistic innovators like Pablo Picasso, as the inventor of cubism, with Ada Lovelace and the invention of computer programming?
On many levels, no, it’s easier to find all manner of specific differences. Equally, for almost every singular habit possessed by a successful innovator, it’s also easy to see those same individual habits used by large chunks of the rest of humanity who’ve never been credited with an invention. Nonetheless, there are a cluster of habits which seem to show up again and again amongst those people we identify as innovators. ‘Curiosity.’ Common to all innovators is a curiosity about at least one, and usually many, fields of enquiry that drives their activity. Innovators are willing to dig where others do not and willing to explore the potential offered up by the failures that befall them.
When Wilson Greatbach put the wrong electronic component in his heart rhythm recorder, he was curious enough about what happened next to realise he’d taken the first steps towards creating the electrical pacemaker. ‘Note-taking.’ Many, many recognised creatives, including artists, comedians, musicians, architects, engineers and scientists, take copious notes. They record their experiences and then revisit them to spot patterns, trends, find insights, only identifiable in hindsight. Their everyday epiphanies don’t get forgotten, they stack up and new insights emerge. ‘Networks.’ Many innovators can credit their networks. They knew the right person, at the right time, or had access to the right resources, to make something happen.
The biography of many of the current era’s technology entrepreneurs includes references to having early access and encouragement to engage with computers and programming when it was still in its infancy. ‘Persistence.’ Thomas Edison was once challenged that he had gained nothing from a huge amount of work he had sunk into a particular problem. His response to that challenge is illuminating in regards to many successful innovators. ‘Why man I’ve got lots of results, I know several thousand ways that don’t work!’ Tolerating failure as an expected and even necessary part of innovation is critical. But surviving all that failure requires persistence. Bringing new ideas to life is not easy or we’d all be doing it more often.
In many ways that bloody-minded willingness to keep trying is the most important factor in innovation. New ideas are often counter intuitive, silly or disruptive to the status quo and hence they are not easily found, and even then they’re resisted. So innovators are not alike by any means, they’re certainly not all elderly white men, but they do share some common habits that we can all draw upon.

In the previous discussion, you came up with a number of ideas about what makes someone a successful innovator.

Here, Dave talks you through some of his own ideas on this topic, many of which we will expand on throughout this course.

He briefly explains a number of things that he feels successful innovators often do, or often are:

  • Are any of these surprising to you?
  • Does Dave mention anything here that you already do?
This article is from the free online

Unleash Your Potential: Innovation and Enterprise

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education