Business Center

The 7 Habits of Highly Innovative People

By Niles Koenigsberg, Process Improvement Intern

August 17th, 2018

innovation brainstroming

At the Lean Everyday Ideas (LEI) program, we love to celebrate the achievements, ideas, and innovations of Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) employees. The everyday contributions from CDOT staff are the micro-pushes that our organization needs to become the best DOT in the nation. Without our innovators, CDOT wouldn’t be where it is today.

So, what is so special about these innovators? What gives these employees the ability to think so creatively? While everyone thinks, operates, and innovates differently, highly effective innovators typically have certain habits that can heighten their own creativity.

Here are 7 proven habits that innovative people use on a daily basis.

1.Set-up your own creative environment

Our environments influence the way we think. Sitting in a room with eggshell white walls will influence you differently than walls covered with dramatic art and cinematic posters. Innovative people understand which elements and aesthetics trigger their imagination.

It’s important to create the right environment for yourself that stimulates your creativity and allows ideas to flow naturally. Your best creative environment may be entirely different than your coworker’s.

For instance, Zane Znamenacek, a prominent CDOT innovator from Region 3, implements 5S/6S methodologies to his work environment 5S/6S is a multi-step organizational clean-up process: sort, set, shine, standardize, sustain, and sometimes safety. This approach keeps his work area organized, clean, and safe, which allows Zane to be more creative and innovative. Everyone thinks creatively in different ways.

2.Follow your passions

This may seem like a no-brainer, but innovative people tend to follow internal drives, allowing their desires to direct where and how they will devote their time and energy. Individuals that are highly innovative and successful will consistently, and persistently, pursue their passions.

Money, fame, and praise are external motivators that work well, but the internal motivation of passion is far more effective. For example, Norman Parra, another CDOT innovator from Region 5, innovates at work consistently because of his passion for safety. Without that passion, innovation would not be a high priority for Norman.

3.Ask for Feedback

Ideas can come to you in a second, but sometimes implementation can take than a day. Innovators understand that ideas take time to fully develop and that feedback from colleagues is valuable, as they could provide a perspective on the idea that you may not have considered yet.

Jamie Ward, another CDOT innovator from Region 1, found out just how much of an impact a simple conversation can have on an innovation. When trying to implement his rust prevention idea, Jamie talked to his coworkers about it and discovered “they all shared the same hobby of restoring older cars and [they] were very familiar with the rust prevention product.” By having a short conversation, Jamie gained support for his innovation quickly and connected with his co-workers simultaneously.

4.Keep a notebook of ideas

The most successful and creative people are usually obsessive note takers and sketchers. Why? We cannot always rely on memory to retain all our epiphanies. Sooner or later, that amazing idea will leave your head and you’ll sit there, frustrated, as you try to recall what that great idea was.

CDOT’s Innovation and Improvement Lead, Geneva Hooten, fully supports note-taking. “I’m an obsessive note taker, both in and out of the office,” she says. When ideas come to her and a pen and paper are not handy, she will text or email herself to track those small ideas that come to mind. Once she returns to her desk, she organizes the ideas into action items on Google Keep. Her advice? Start carrying a small notebook with you, or use the “notes” feature on your phone, to track your bright ideas.

5.Juggle multiple areas of interest

True innovators don’t stick to just one project. They’re constantly bouncing between ideas and interests, examining projects from different angles, and taking breaks from certain innovations. These people are not distracted, they just have multiple interests and find value in taking breaks in between projects.

This habit exists in Znamenacek’s daily workflow, as he works on numerous projects simultaneously. One moment he’s working on a striping initiative, and the next he’s working with a research branch on another project. Taking the time to pursue multiple interests will help cultivate your creativity and provide new perspectives on your projects.

6.Question everything

Creative and innovative people are naturally curious individuals that question the status quo. The more you question, the more your imagination is stimulated. Innovative is an iterative process that requires constant questioning.

For example, Clair Anderson, a former Human Resources intern at CDOT, has been a consistent innovator due to her curious nature. She developed a skills matrix idea, which assesses intern skills as they join CDOT, which provides direction for their internship. This idea developed as a result of Clair’s persistent inquisitive nature, asking herself “how can we judge each new hire adequately?” By asking questions, she developed her innovation fully.

7.Free yourself from constraints

Beliefs, work structures, and leadership styles can drastically shape our lives. They provide us with direction, but they can also limit our creativity. True innovators free themselves of inhibitions and constraints to embrace their own creative process. So, take the time to innovate! We encourage you to set aside time for improvement. It’s not just important to your work, but it’s also vitally important to CDOT as a whole that each of us is making time for improvement.

Now you have a brief sense of how innovators behave, operate, and think. Start applying these habits to your lifestyle and see what ideas come to you!