Fast-Track To The Top or Dead-End Street? Careers for Innovators

Expert: Shannon HoudeCurator: Sugath Warnakulasuriya

Shannon Houde is an ICF certified executive and career coach who founded Walk of Life Consulting, the first international professional development advisory business focused solely on the social impact, environmental and sustainable business fields.

01 // What are the core skills innovators need?

02 // How do you define a career as a corporate innovator?

03 // How and where do you push the boundaries vs tow the company line?

04 // What skills would innovators need in the near future?

// Summary

Stellar ideas and a progressive production plan shape only one side of today’s innovation game – to truly succeed, you need people at their best, working together effectively.

In conversation with strategic advisor and consultant Sugath Warnakulasuriya, Shannon Houde shared her take on crucial ways that innovators can lead scalable change in an uncertain, rapidly changing future, at startups and large corporations alike.

Core skills to make innovation thrive

Empathy: Listen, ask good questions, try on the hat of your collaborators or clients. This enables you to gain the buy-in you need to drive your innovation further, through the lens of your audience rather than defaulting to your own perspective.

Co-creation: Instill a team culture where everyone involved in the project feels engaged, enabled and empowered to be a part of the journey. Move beyond business buzzwords like “collaboration” and instead use “co-creation” - replace “Let’s all get along” with the more tactical “Let’s build this together!”

Resilience to failure: Take no for an answer and move on. Failures, setbacks and resistance come with the nature of any innovation space, and should actually be encouraged. If you aren’t failing you aren’t innovating. How well you respond to the fact that your idea might not make it past the whiteboard or that you might not get the buy-in you want to push that idea on to the R&D team, for example, defines and informs not only how resilient you are to failure, but how quickly you can move on to the next idea.

Integrating the social

Effective in-person communication: Building strong human relationships remains essential for business success, especially for those who identify as change-makers. As human communication has moved into the digital domain of email, texting, social media and virtual work, we’ve built bridges but also thrown up walls. Though valued corporate skills may become commoditized, Shannon predicts that real talk with real people in real space is not to be underestimated.

Mentorship in multiple flavours: Learning through mentorship isn’t simply about asking the right questions or being given direct advice – it’s about spending time in the mentor’s sphere. This applies to a boss or colleague in a workplace or in volunteer positions, pro bono activities or a professional association. Leverage your mentor to really understand the inner workings of their challenges and world. Shannon implores, “Get the most amount of exposure to the people that you want to be like when you grow up!”

Time to reflect: Engaging in ongoing, scheduled, formal reflection shines a different light on what’s working or not working, what skills we’re using or not using, what we saw others doing that we liked or didn’t like. Professionals in the innovation space often enjoy the speed of business and constantly working in pursuit of their purpose, but we all need down time, says Shannon, and if you hope to be a game-changer, you need it more than most. A coaching session, lunch with a mentor, meditation or any regular practice of reflection empowers you to see your own progress as a person in the context of your work.

"We love to talk, we love to share our ideas, but if we can listen first, and listen longer, we will be able to shape the change, and create products and services that will be more relevant to our audiences."