Open-mindedness : A Key Trait for Successful Innovators

Brain with open door symbolising openmindedness

What are the important personal qualities and character traits that an innovation manager should have?

The list is potentially a long one - future orientation, interest in novelty, leadership, resilience and so on. However, if I were pushed to determine the single most important quality, I would say open-mindedness.

What do I mean by this? Well, the ability to assess a situation, idea, or anything else on its individual merits. The tendency for many people is to lose open-mindedness as they get older.

Over time, we gain the benefit of experience, and in doing so we can gain a host of reference points. These reference points are our web of memories and experiences that can be triggered at any time.

Once we have many reference points, there is a risk that whenever someone makes a suggestion to us or presents us with a new idea, we connect it back to one of our reference points. We feel the need to 'place' the idea or at worst pigeon hole it.

This process is inaccurate and sometimes, whether we have seen this idea before or not – we might feel we have. What’s more, we might associate some of the snags of something from one of our reference points with this new idea. Ultimately, we may end up rejecting the idea – on the basis of our associations with ‘something similar’ from the past.

So, does this mean that we should only appoint young innovation managers? People who would have fewer reference points? No, the truth is that open-mindedness is a quality that can be relearned.

In some Anatellô workshops we spend time focusing on open-mindedness. Just raising awareness of its importance can be helpful for participants. Then we may work through some challenges to build open-mindedness skills further. Participants might be given an outrageous suggestion as to how to solve a problem. This shocks them initially. However, by coaching them to stay open-minded and use appropriate innovation processes, they usually find that they can indeed develop the outrageous suggestion into a perfectly workable solution.

Such an experience can be enlightening.

By being open-minded, innovators are able to think the unthinkable in order to come up with something fresh or even revolutionary.

We all know we can develop our creative thinking skills. Just as importantly, we can  develop our open-mindedness skills so that we are able to accept and develop the breakthrough ideas that our colleagues come up with.

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