How Innovators Think Differently

So your family is ready to check you into the closest psych ward. You either actually need professional help or you’re an innovator. Innovators think differently. They see the world in a different light. Imagine the mad scientist on, the hero in silicon valley, or the weird musician or artist. Just the meer name “Innovator” means to do things differently. Their triumphs are celebrated. But their roads are scoffed at and made fun of long before their celebrations. Why? Because they create their own drum beat.

Kathy Woods Booth

Photo Credits: Kathy Woods Booth Photography. Used by Permission.

But before I talk about what makes innovators tick, I should first start with the five factor model. As Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book, David and Goliath, “Psychologist measure personality through what is called the Five Factor Model, or ‘Big Five’ inventory, which assesses who we are across the following dimensions.”¹ These five dimensions include…

The Five Factor Model¹

  1. Neuroticism – sensitive/nervous versus secure/confident
  2. Extraversion – energetic/gregarious verses solitary/reserved
  3. Openness – inventive/curious versus consistent/ cautious
  4. Conscientiousness – orderly/industrious versus easygoing/careless
  5. Agreeableness – cooperative/empathetic versus self-interested/antagonistic

This list of traits is together creates someone’s personality. What makes innovators tick all depends on the fifth dimension of the five factor model. Malcolm goes on to point out that…

“Innovators have to be open. They have to be able to imagine things that others cannot and to be willing to challenge their own preconceptions. They also need to be conscientious. An innovator who has brilliant ideas but lacks the discipline and persistence to carry them out is merely a dreamer. That, too, is obvious.

But crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable. By disagreeable, I don’t mean obnoxious or unpleasant. I mean that on that fifth dimension of the Big Five personality inventory, “agreeableness”, they tend to be in the far end of the continuum. They are willing to take social risks to do things that others might disapprove of.

That is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are hardwired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative thought goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention.”²

Innovators must be willing to be disagreeable and to challenge convention. It’s the very essence of what makes them an innovator. It’s also what makes it hard to be one as well. Taking the road less travelled seems like defiance and just plain crazy to those who are not innovators. It doesn’t make them mean or wrong. They just express themselves differently. Innovators are cut from different blocks of ice if you will. To an innovator it goes against everything that they are to go the same way everyone else is going without questioning it. I think it’s safe to say another quality of the innovator is leader.

I love this quote from Malcolm’s book. I’ve heard it many times, but in congruency with the topic of innovation, it’s perfect. “As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once put it: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”²

Be unreasonable. 

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Sarah Jackson

Vigilant Poster Girl

Every week I talk about a book that we’re reading on leadership and self-development. You can follow along by going to the Book of the Week page at the top. And order a book (either kindle, audible, or paperback) by clicking on the photo of that book. When you do that, it also helps fund this site. 


  1. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell Pg 115 – 116
  2. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell Pg 116 – 117

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