Across the board, innovation efforts aren’t yet yielding enough results.

The missing piece is the human aspect of innovation – the raw innovation ability or innovation talent of the workforce.

A snippet from Suzan Briganti’ session during the Innov8rs Connect Unconference, June-September 2020. To watch the full session recording, join Innov8rs Community with a Content or Premium Pass.

Is Everyone An Innovator?

Delving into the question of innovation ability, you will also soon pick up on a widespread belief that everyone is an innovator. It’s true that “to innovate is human.” We humans are the only species that rearranges our environment and realizes ideas from our imaginations. The belief that everyone is an innovator underpins employee innovation challenges where anyone can post a suggestion or idea.

We are all for democratization. But after a decade of involvement in such internal employee challenges, we have found they often lead to lots of incremental ideas, and many poorly expressed ideas. Yes, great ideas can come from anywhere, but that does not mean they are equally likely to come from everyone.

The fact that few employee ideas are implemented is partly because little thought is given upfront to funding for winning ideas, or the “not invented here” syndrome exists in which business units do not adapt to outside suggestions. But it is also because most employees lack the business skills, influencing skills and delivery skills required in innovation. So while innovation CAN come from anyone, it takes a lot more than creativity. And there are different degrees and flavors of innovation talent and skill in different individuals.

Moreover, innovation talent is not a binary “yes/no” thing. Once you know a person’s specific innovation abilities, you can better match them to projects, pair them up with complementary teammates, and offer them training to develop where needed. And if you measure innovation ability at scale, you can also predict, on aggregate, your workforce’s readiness to innovate.

The Four Elements of Innovation Ability

A large-scale study by Swarm Vision found that innovation talent is statistically predictive of business results. At the firm level, innovation capability closely predicts growth. McKinsey compared innovation proficiency for 183 companies against economic-profit performance. Their analysis showed a strong, positive correlation between innovation performance and financial performance. So being able to predict your workforce’s capacity to innovate is very valuable indeed.

Innovation ability consists of four elements: (a) motivation; (b) proclivities (an inclination or predisposition toward a particular behavior); (c) skills; and (d) preferences.
Here are the differences between the four elements of innovation ability:


Human motivation is often contextual and ebbs and flows, and that makes it hard to assess. A person may be very unmotivated to mow their lawn, but very motivated to toss a ball with their kid. I may not be very motivated at 4:00 in the morning, but I’m firing on all cylinders at 11:00 am. You may be able, but not willing, to innovate for your specific employer because you have lost faith that your discretionary effort will be rewarded.


Proclivities are either inborn or deeply conditioned behaviors that, by adulthood, are quite stable aspects of the self. In addition to personality, these include attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors. We know that innovators are not motivated by the same things as ordinary employees. For example, they may prefer a challenging assignment creating a new product or business vs. a corner office that comes with a staid routine.


The main difference between proclivities and skills is that skills are easier to develop. A person can have little inborn talent for a given activity, and with extended effort, they can develop their skills. But a high proclivity can make learning a related skill much easier. At the same time, seeing yourself succeeding at a new skill can make you feel more positive about it, and alter your sense of yourself. Over time, that positive experience of a new skill can feed back into your proclivities and sense of self.


Your preference is what you enjoy most. Preferences and skills are not the same thing. For example, you may like brainstorming but are not very prolific at it.

The Eight Behaviors That Distinguish Success Innovators From Others

A large-scale study by Swarm Vision revealed eight behaviors or innovation talents that distinguish serial, successful innovators from the general population. These eight behaviors are highly predictive of real-world innovation outcomes such as profitability, global expansion, acquisitions and IPOs.

In order to thrive, innovation teams need to be made up of individuals with a sufficient degree of these skills:

  1. Drive – The ambition to tackle big opportunities, the initiative to instigate new ventures, to pursue them with intensity, and to persist through setbacks.
  2. Disrupt – The self-confidence to dissent from inherited approaches, to break boundaries, to thrive in uncertainty.
  3. Create – A fascination with novelty, obsession with problem-solving, ability to make uncommon connections, the mindset to continuously grow.
  4. Connect – The ability to relate to diverse stakeholders, to navigate a complex organization for resources, to persuade, and attract a team.
  5. Control – Interest in all aspects of a venture, the drive to beat the competition, a comfort and facility with the financial aspects of innovation, including managing risk.
  6. Think – A large capacity for information, ability to recognize emerging patterns, and to reflect on underlying systems.
  7. Deliver – Resourcefulness, adaptability, and the ability to pivot your approach to reach goals, based on the changing context.
  8. Give – The motivation to benefit others and to make the world better through innovation.

The good news? It is now possible to assess this talent in individuals and organize it into stronger teams using Swarm. It’s time to close the gap between innovation aspirations and actual results.

This is a piece from The Innovator’s Handbook 2021. If you’re keen to dive into the best and latest on corporate innovation, request your copy here. To discuss anything Careers, Personal Development & Wellbeing join our upcoming Innov8rs Connect online event, 7-8 January.

If you have innovation in your title, this is your tribe.

Innov8rs Community

Your best support resource to learn new approaches, solve challenges and improve outcomes.

Innov8rs Summer School

Upgrade your skill-, tool- and mindset, and increase your impact as innovation professional.

[i8upd8] Newsletter

Get new in-depth articles and stories fresh from our blog, straight to your inbox.

Let's talk

Curious to hear more about our Community membership, in-person Conferences, or Innov8rs in general? Keen to speak? Looking for ways to partner? Any questions? Just open a chat via the blue button bottom right. Or email Hans Balmaekers via

The Innovator's Handbook 2023

Dive into the “what” and “how” for innovation management in 2023.


Privacy Preference Center