Large organizations are usually really good at incremental innovation.

That's what they're wired to do. But when it comes to true disruption, most corporations struggle to drive permanent, repeatable, and scalable growth.

As innovation absorbs money and resources and needs investment and protection, corporates must shift from thinking about growth and innovation as a project to creating a system, an infrastructure for growth to ultimately considering innovation and growth as a state of being. And that "state of being" requires a mindset shift, a new way of thinking about talent and skills to create the ecosystem and the environment for innovators to succeed.

As part of our recent Innov8rs Connect on Culture, Talent & Teams, Viv Goldstein (VP, Organizational and Executive Development at Bionic – part of Accenture Interactive), addressed the mindsets needed for high-performance innovation teams.

Here is a summary of what she shared.

Mindsets Matter Most

For any innovation role, it requires specific knowledge and skills to get the job done. However, for a company to be successful with innovation it primarily requires high-performing teams of people with the right mindsets and behaviors.

Typically, there are three cohorts within an organization. At the top, the executives, or leadership cohort, make resource allocation and investment decisions. In the middle are the entrepreneurs, or cofounders, who do the hard work of innovating. At the bottom is the operating system, which supports and surrounds the organization.

Many leaders have difficulty grasping the concept of mindsets, let alone how to recognize when they have the right people. That's especially true when it comes to working with innovators; the entrepreneurs or cofounders in Viv’s words.

Entrepreneurial people have a different kind of DNA — as Viv put it, "they're scrappy, and they're gritty" — but by default, one must be more structured in large organizations.

3 Key Skills And 9 Critical Mindsets for Innovators

There are 3 key skills and 9 critical mindsets innovators must exhibit.

Deliver impact

First, they must be able to deliver impact. There is no point in doing innovation work unless it’s actually going to deliver impact. And delivering impact means truly understanding the marketplace, deeply knowing what's going on in the competitive space around innovation, and even having the courage to stop working on things that don't create value.

Growth mechanics and tools

Second, innovators don't always know all the answers – they need to run experiments to find solutions. Experiments typically start small, inexpensive, and with low fidelity until they reach higher fidelity levels that warrant investing more money. In a nutshell, cofounders are expected to know and learn how to run experimentation engines.

Growth mindsets and behaviors

Eventually, the third, most critical skill expected of great innovators is having growth mindsets and behaviors. These include being a learner, a team player, and obsessed – and nine related and specific mindsets.

1. Growth Behavior: Learner

The best innovators are firstly expected to be learners. And that means they should be:

  • Curious: innovation is about curiosity, asking questions, valuing discovery over certainty, challenging everything – particularly something that everybody thinks is obvious (as it might not be that obvious).
  • Adaptable: innovators should be agile, versatile, not wedded to a way of doing things, and comfortable with ambiguity and change. They should prioritize making progress over perfection.
  • Humble: humility is critical in the innovation context. Being humble means being aware that not all answers are known and that holding biases is normal. Indeed, the first stage to address a bias is recognizing that it exists. Humility enables innovators to focus even on something that might be unpleasant.
2. Growth Behavior: Team Player

Innovation and growth is a team sport. As Viv emphasizes, "You can't do it on your own. Life just isn't like that". As team players, innovators should be:

  • Collaborative: put team success over and above their own and address difficult issues with grace (humility and respect). Collaboration is about helping everybody get better.
  • Driven by trust: engaging in constructive conflicts is possible when anyone is driven by trust. True innovators give their perspectives but are always willing to trust the team's decision.
  • Visionary: the best entrepreneurs – i.e., the unicorns – have unbelievable visions and big ideas. But, as part of that, they also have to be able to simplify their vision and communicate it in a clear, simple way.
3. Growth Behavior: Obsessed

Obsession may sound like a negative trait to look for, but it's a crucial trait for those driving the innovation. Accordingly, entrepreneurs should be:

  • Passionate: leaders have to look for people who go to bed at night or wake up in the morning wanting to innovate because all they want to do is solve consumer or customer problems. That has to be their personal obsession.
  • Focused: every innovation effort must be committed to solving the consumer pain points.
  • Learn from failure: it's so hard to fail – nobody wants to fail. However, look for people who dwell on learning rather than not wanting to fail.

8 Critical Mindsets For Leaders

Leaders also need to be on board- there is no point in just having employees do the work with a different mindset. Of course, the leaders' mindsets are slightly different because they are not involved in the day-to-day the innovation work – what they do is enable it. Here's the critical mindsets leaders need to exhibit and develop”

  1. Turn outside in: probably one of the more obvious ones, it means focusing on customers' problems rather than on internal problems, having a look at what's going on the outside to focus on solving their issues continuously.
  2. End the addiction to being right: as well as innovators, leaders know all the answers. Accordingly, they have to move on and ask better questions with humility and courage.
  3. Expire outdated data: old data are not good to make decisions. According to Viv, they shouldn't be older than six months. She suggests revisiting the data you’re using continually.
  4. Do versus say: this specific mindset has two parts to it. First, if you're a leader, you can't just tell people what to do. You need to role model those behaviors. That's what your employees are looking for. Second, measure innovators’ activity.
  5. Embrace productive failure: it’s healthy to create an area, a space of “psychological safety” where innovators can invalidate a hypothesis.
  6. No silver bullets: there's no magic about innovation – it's a hard way of working and thinking.
  7. Don't love to death: avoid saying, “We don't need to experiment because it's my idea". Even leaders’ ideas can be unsuccessful.
  8. Be an ambidextrous leader: leaders today have to solve both for the quarter and the future and hold those two potentially conflicting ideas in mind at any one time. If you don't solve for the quarter, there's not going to be a future. And if you don't think about solving for the future, your quarters will run out.

Finding The Right Talent – Internal Vs. External Approach

If you already have an innovation team in place, you can focus on shifting their mindsets by providing training and development. However, when gaps exist and need to be filled, it pays to identify carefully, research, and network with potential external candidates.

Ideally, it's possible to find the right people in all places. Whether you're going internal or whether you're going external, be clear about what you as a business leader are looking for and how you might help develop the needed skills and knowledge.

There are several considerations when sourcing internal and external talent.

Sourcing internal talent

If you've got it, use it. Sourcing internal candidates is the quickest and easiest way to build an innovation team. You spend less time contacting and assessing them. It's also a more cost-effective way to recruit. Internal teams help promote loyalty, as well as reduce employee turnover. As you source new internal talent, consider these fundamentals:

  • Focus on behavior versus functional or domain expertise
  • Find those who "self-identify" and are "natural disruptors"
  • Recognize that they're unlikely to be the "high potentials"
  • Be agnostic to the candidate's band or level
  • Ensure absolute clarity on the role of the HRBP in the process
  • Be aware of engineering and Black Belt/Six Sigma backgrounds

Sourcing External Talent

Finding team members externally is more of a challenge. It takes more time, energy, and money. However, external candidates can increase the diversity of the innovation culture you're trying to build. External recruitment is a way to add fresh talent with new skills and ideas necessary for taking an organization to the next level. When sourcing external talent, contemplate the following:

  • It's okay to use traditional recruitment channels
  • Leverage LinkedIn's advanced keyword search features
  • Explore referrals through connections and professional organizations
  • Seek one who can navigate a large-scale organization
  • Ensure candidate demonstrates and articulates consistent customer passion

When seeking new talent, think about the way they're going to work. You'll likely find them in a slightly different place, whether internal or external.

Once the right talent with the right mindset has been recruited, it’s about continuous development. Skill building is essential as markets change and technology becomes the driver of success. Along with skill-building, leaders must track progress and address issues accordingly.

You can’t just tell people to behave in different ways and not provide proper support- that wouldn’t be fair.

Leaders hold teams accountable by telling them what's expected and then measuring their performance against those expectations. Measurement and accountability are not to be done as a pejorative term or as a corporate bonus. It's purely for developmental purposes.

Entrepreneurs need to break some of the rules and go fast and stand up experiments quickly. Accordingly, if there’s no proper ecosystem set up to support them, in the best case, it will be hard for them; in the worst case, they fail and "they will be squashed like a bug", says Viv.

Innovators need different mindsets, skills, and behaviors. However, they also need permission to work differently. Without that permission, you can't have a high-performing team.

The most important factor that innovation leaders must keep in mind?

Without a change in mindset, mechanics just don't matter.