Do you need to be headstrong to be innovative?

steve-jobsI wrote recently about the importance of good political and emotional awareness when it comes to being innovative.  It was based on new research revealing that our innovative ideas often succeed (or not) based not so much on the ideas themselves as on their timing.

In other words, you need to be aware enough to pick the right battles to fight, and the right time to air your ideas.  Do so at the wrong time and you tend to be branded a trouble maker rather than a change maker.

All of which makes a second paper particularly interesting.  It has its roots in the notion that to be innovative you have to be something of a jerk.  It looked at well known examples such as Steve Jobs, who was famously rather difficult as a person, but who managed to force his ideas through by virtue of the strength of his personality.

Are such headstrong personalities naturally more innovative though?  Do such personalities help when it comes to getting ideas implemented?

The study saw participants first undertake a personality test, before then coming together in teams of three to come up with a marketing campaign for a fictional product.

This initial study found that the myth that headstrong people come up with more ideas is just that, a myth.  Such a personality does however seem to help when it comes to getting those ideas accepted by your team.

A second experiment then explored how ideas spread.  The researchers placed participants into an online chat environment to test how being surrounded by creative and supportive peers might encourage people to share ideas.

The results from this experiment highlight the importance of context when it comes to giving our ideas the best chance to succeed.  For instance, if the environment is challenging and hostile to new ideas, then being headstrong can help to push those ideas through.

If the environment is much more supportive to new ideas however, you being headstrong tends to make your peers dislike you instead.

“It seems that being a ‘jerk’ may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas, but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others,” the researchers say.

“Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical,” they conclude. “In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”

So, just as with the first study, it would appear that knowing your environment is crucial if you want to get your ideas heard and accepted.


16 thoughts on “Do you need to be headstrong to be innovative?

  1. This is Great Information Post , Superb ideas mind blowing Work , i like it , My First Visit Your Blog , i am Really impress your blog , Thank You very Much For Sharing me , Keep it up Good Work ,


  2. Both head strong AND flexible. Driven, passionate AND whimsical and Carefree. Innovation requires the intersection of the impossible AND practical. Innovation occurs where a paradigm contains a paradox that creates a blind impossibility where there is a practical solution waiting to be found. Only someone who is willing to combine BOTH the accepted truth and the accepted impossible can innovate. Kudos to those who dream the new reality.

  3. Can someone be both headstrong or supportive depending on the environment? Could someone like Steve Jobs exist in an environment that was supportive? People who are headstrong are most likely unable to change their ways and therefore need to accept position or build environments that aren't supportive. Wouldn't that be an interesting topic to bring up at an interview!

  4. As the initial study revealed, the source of this question's magnetism reaches beyond its own limitations. What kind of innovation are you driving if you limit co-creation? What kind of world are you creating if you exclude other voices and their needs?

  5. At times the batman approach is warranted, being the hero you need to be. I have found that careful and precise planning with the right team can win when the odds are unlikely in your favor at times.

  6. You have to know where your own attributes help and where they hinder. You then create your team to suit. Apple did that very well most of the time but it had to bring back its founder when it started to lose its way. The finding here would seem to point out the value of a creative jerk in any innovative company.

  7. What I may view as "innovative", is often viewed as "disruptive" by those who are resistant to change…..I have experienced this many times. Being headstrong is helpful in implementation of an innovative idea, but eventually, you have to build a critical mass who is onboard with you, or the concept will get slow-rolled into extinction…..unless you own of the marbles.

  8. Innovation in my experience that was the most successful, leading to 2 patents, was "fostered" by organizations/teams who ignored the "bully thinker".

  9. If people can see what you see then that's not at all innovation , it's always what's seen only by you and rejected by others initially and finally accept what you saw was great becomes the innovation . To accept the rejection and still to move ahead you need to be headstrong .

  10. If it fails to see the light of day then it was and could not be innovative. We need the buy in from stakeholders including and more importantly, executive sponsorship. Procuring this is political exercise.

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