Creative Innovation 2019 (Ci2019)

Exploring Characteristics of Australia’s Emerging Innovation Leaders

Monday, 11 July 2011

Innovation and creativity.  Self-doubt and caution.  The two statements seem diametrically opposed but as Creative Universe and Chandler Macleod Consulting discovered recently, these characteristics successfully co-habit within many of Australia’s emerging innovation leaders…and may even be integral to their success. Creative Innovation 2010 included a national search for outstanding Australian Innovation Leaders resulting in ten scholarship winners participating at the conference.

As part of the process, research was carried out to delve into and explore the personal qualities, characteristics and traits seen in some of Australia’s emerging innovation leaders. These leaders were diverse. Not only in terms of their backgrounds, but also with respect to their chosen targets for innovation and where they have been effecting change to date, bridging areas of the broader community, business, education, research, health and entrepreneurship.

A total of 70 innovation leaders participated in an on-line psychological assessment, which included in-depth measures of personality, temperament and cognitive aptitude. After collating data at a group level, the characteristics across the group were analysed, in an effort to identify any consistent trends or themes in relation to innovation, creativity and leadership style.

Whilst the data revealed great variation in the personal characteristics of individual innovation leaders, some interesting trends were observed across the group as a whole. The first of these was a pronounced level of autonomy and independence, suggesting that these innovation leaders are more comfortable than most people ‘going it alone’ and backing their own directives. They perhaps feel less compelled than most to seek out a sense of consensual validation or group acceptance through their work, and rather than feeling a strong need for their efforts to be part of a collective, report a level of comfort in separating from one’s work group. Indeed, a comfort in being an independent operator. What might this mean for collaboration?

How will the emphasis on team work and the increasing trend towards valuing group effort over individual contribution within businesses be impacted by the higher levels of autonomy we might see in our emerging innovation leaders going forward? Is it perhaps that innovation leaders need solitary time for individual brainstorming and idea generation, and collaboration begins at the implementation phase of initiatives? Does this finding suggest that creativity flourishes more easily in an individual, than in a group of individuals? Such a trend does, at least, suggest the value these innovation leaders place on space for individual thought in creative endeavours.

Not surprisingly, innovation leaders also possessed a higher level of personal conviction in their own ideas and aspirations. Such a quality can be positioned as a fundamental component of what most call ‘vision’. These innovation leaders not only appeared to hold stronger beliefs than most people, but were also more inclined to passionately ‘sell’ their vision or idea to others. This is certainly a trait that would assist them to engage others and marshal support for their innovative endeavours.  It makes intuitive sense that a successful innovation leader needs to truly believe in the value of their ideas and solutions, to bring about revolution and enact change in the way business, education, health and community systems operate.

A desire to benefit society was also reflected in the group data. These leaders appeared to be primarily driven to contribute in a positive way to their social group or community, rather than by increasing personal rewards for themselves or their business. This trend may be somewhat more pronounced in this particular selection of leaders, given their shared interest in activities centred on building social capital and innovative solutions for the community (i.e., through their association with Creative Universe).

The aforementioned trends are not surprising. Indeed, they reflect characteristics long known to be associated with innovation and leadership. The analysis of the group data also reflected some curious themes though. Most notably, it was surprising to observe higher levels of self-doubt in this group of innovation leaders, than typically seen in the general population. Essentially, these leaders admitted to being somewhat hard on themselves, with the data suggesting that they often find themselves in situations where they doubt their own capabilities and strengths.

Self-doubt at high levels, and in isolation, could certainly hamper success in generating, launching and ‘staying the course’ with innovative initiatives. However, it seems that when combined with the higher levels of vision, autonomy and self-discipline seen in these leaders, it could manifest in efforts to ‘be better’ at what they do. This is just one hypothesis that could be generated from such a pattern of traits, and there are many more to be explored. It does, however, challenge the mindset that leaders are less inclined than their peers to call into question their own capabilities in tackling the issues and challenges they take on.

Another unexpected trend that emerged was towards being cautious in planning and decision making. Data revealed that these leaders tended to be concerned about the longer term, and were inclined to anticipate setbacks and likely roadblocks to success. Traditionally, creative thinkers, those that generate new and novel ideas, have been portrayed as less plagued by concerns of what could ‘go wrong’. Rather, they focus purely on thinking freely and ‘outside the square’.

It is the realists (or pessimists as some would say) in a group that can foresee the potential problems with fresh ideas, and accordingly, that can build contingencies into the plans and solutions put forward. This is what makes ideas feasible in the longer term. It seems that this group of innovation leaders tend to possess an amalgamation of both traits – creativity tempered with caution. It could be that this is quite an effective formula for an individual to utilise in launching successful and durable innovation initiatives.

There is an increasing focus on identifying emerging innovation leaders in Australia – in our community, our education systems and our organisations. Certainly, it is an opportune time to start exploring the qualities and unique combinations of traits these individuals possess. We need to understand what drives these individuals to create and innovate, and gain insight into what ‘helps or hinders’ the success of the initiatives they put forward. This will enable organisations and society to build an environment that continues to cultivate and nurture their unique visions and contributions.

Chandler Macleod Consulting is one of Australia’s largest workforce and management advisories, with unparalleled expertise in assessment and development that assists organisations to optimise the performance of their people.

For further information, contact Fiona Erskine, Consultant Psychologist, Chandler Macleod, Phone: 03 8629 1127 Web:WWW.CHANDLERMACLEOD.COM

And for Creative Innovation, visit


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