It takes unique cognitive abilities to get you to groundbreaking innovation

Talents or Soft Skills matters – in some cases, even more than hard skills. One of those cases is with Innovation Development. Creating a groundbreaking innovation, something that changes the way people do things, needs a new perspective, open-mindedness, creativity, courage, and other cognitive abilities that are deeply engrained in a person’s mind. ‘Talent’ is probably a better word than ‘soft skill’ because talent is seen as something in a person’s character and skill is something that can be trained.  For the sake of this post, let’s use talent as something we are looking for when attracting innovation managers or innovation team members.

Key Success Factors of Innovation Teams

About ten years ago, we asked ourselves, what are the key skills an innovative mind should have? After many long discussions, we realized: No skills at all. From startups, we learned that 20-year-old innovators with no developed skills could easily come up with amazing ideas. An early reaction was that age is a key factor for innovators. Startups should be run by young people that are unbiased and can change the world. Later on, we all learned that 50-year-old Elon Musk unfolded his full potential in the mid-30s. But all highly successful innovators have a few things in common, independent of age, skills, or educational background – TALENTS.

Those top innovators are without exception highly curious, very courageous, continuous, or relentless in their execution and exceptional collaborators. While looking deeper into the fabric of the innovator’s talent we discovered eight key aspects: Curious, Courageous, Continuous, Collaborative, Creative, Communicative, Confident, and Connected. You may wonder what about PASSIONATE? We put it consciously out. Passion is not necessarily a specific talent or wiring in one’s brain – it is a result of a specific neurological trigger. Any person can be extremely passionate about something. Passion is certainly a success factor for innovators but not a talent.

The 8 Cs of innovation talent

Curious, Courageous, Continuous, Collaborative, Creative, Communicative, Confident, and Connected


We learned that new ideas are composed of past experiences. Unrelated experiences to solve a problem or create a new solution are especially valuable. People who are curious above average, obviously have more and wider spread experiences than others. Curiosity is also an essential talent when trying to learn how customers work today and what it may take to make a significant improvement.




When radically new thoughts get created it takes a lot of courage to share them with others. It takes courage to stand your ground, despite others laughing at you. In an enterprise, it takes courage to push for a change and at the same time take the risk to get fired.



Relentless execution is what makes an innovation successful. Innovation teams, therefore, need to be continuous in their work. Never give up and never surrender.





Sharing ideas, not owning them is part of a key ideation process called Idea Confluence. Working with others to simply extend the brainpower and accumulate more ideas is critical in the ideation process. Also, when ideas are realized or brought to market, the innovation team needs to be highly diverse but also collaborative in every aspect of their work.




Creativity has very many faces. In the innovation space, creativity is not only creative ideas but also creative business models, creative ways to produce things, creative ways to finance development, get to the market, and more.





One of the biggest advantages of being human, compared to other biological life forms, is the ability to communicate thoughts and visions for the future. That talent is needed in every phase of innovation, every collaborative event or meeting, every ideation session, and every other collaborative engagement.




Confidence is needed in communication, motivation, investment phases, and in the interaction with the market. Confidence is derived from very well-thought-out solutions and concepts that have been explored from hundreds of different aspects. Confidence is not about convincing others but transforming a vision into a realistic model that others can adapt as well.




And finally, a strong networking ability that connects a person with relevant people but also connects others. Connection skills are especially important when unique skills are needed that are not part of the innovation team.


Testing Soft Skills

Unlike well-trained and adopted hard skills, it seems that testing soft skills is not so easy. However, soft skills are not so much in the foreground and therefore there is not as much experience in the market.  Here are a few tips to test a candidate for certain soft skills. Instead of having multiple-choice questions or questions that you expect either a right or a wrong answer, talents are more individual and therefore test the candidate’s personal experience.

  • Ask them how they define curiosity and what was their most impressive experience of curiosity?
  • Ask candidates if their ideas get too crazy and they risk being dismissed, what do they do?

We will publish a separate blog post just on soft skill testing and probing.

When talents meet objectives

Brilliant ideas are the very starting point of an innovation effort. Yet relentless execution makes innovative ideas and concepts a genuine innovation. Missing that duality between ideation and execution is why so many innovation projects failed. Successful innovation is the entire work from pre ideation market observation to a multi-year engagement to scale the new solution in a global market. This is what successful innovation teams need to be of diverse backgrounds and unique talents or soft skills. The above-mentioned soft skills are essential for success. Therefore testing and probing a candidate’s soft skills is a strategic task in the hiring process. Make sure you have tools and methods in place to test soft skills and give them a rating.

Where to find the best talents?

Most business managers tend to hire their innovation dream team from the outside. Reasons may include that they don’t trust their own culture, don’t know anybody who has the right profile, or fears that they are already blinded by the organization. If that is the case, it would be important to improve the internal collaboration and management style to prevent new hires from getting absorbed into the old system too quickly. Moreover, our research indicates that most enterprises with a desire to innovate have the top talents already in-house. We have seen amazing creative and ingenious people in all kinds of departments within enterprises. Attracting talents from within the organization has various advantages. You should not fear that they may already be blinded by the way things work in the company. If they have the 8 C’s as soft skills they will make a better organization and culture faster and with more intensity than newcomers.


  • Make yourself familiar with the value of the 8 C’s
  • Look inside your organization first
  • Make sure you have a very compelling offering
  • Be aware that you will deal with exceptional talents that other companies will try to hire away.
  • Don’t protect your talents, give them a dream environment
  • It takes teamwork to make a dream work

Looking for a career in the fast-growing innovation space. Take the Innovation Talent Test to see if you have the 8C’s to start your innovation career opportunity.

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