The 1 Thing That Makes The Difference in Innovation

Updated: May 12, 2020

What is the one thing that makes the difference in innovation? What do so many people underestimate when it comes to innovation? What do some completely miss? The answer is easy and complicated at the same time: It's the human mindset!

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "mindset" means "The established set of attitudes held by someone." While "attitude" is "A settled way of thinking or feeling about something." 

Well, you might ask yourself what "mindset" and "attitude" have to do with innovation. In several previous blog posts like "The Most Important Factor in Innovation is Humans", I provided insights about the elements of innovative mindsets and the reasons behind its enormous leverage. For some of you, this is a refresher. For others, it might be a wake-up call. Sometimes the business world seems to divide into two parts: People who understand and use the power of mindset in business and innovation, who are mainly entrepreneurs. And others who don't care or understand and seem to work mostly in all types of well-established corporations.


Why should you care about a mindset for innovation? Imagine a nice restaurant in your town that is ideally located and easy to reach. You could have lunch or dinner together with your family, friends, and business partners there a couple of times per month or year. Think about two scenarios: 

First, the chef is not only a qualified cook but furthermore a curious, creative, and inspiring mind. He has many ideas, shares them with his colleagues. He experiments a lot, uses novel tools, and creates new menus and recipes. The entire staff at the restaurant feels inspired by him and contributes to innovations in service and many other parts of the restaurant. Every time you go to this restaurant, you will discover something new on the menu and in all the details of your experience as a customer. 

In the second scenario, the chef and his team are as qualified as in the first scenario. But there is less curiosity and no inspiration. Such a mindset leads to less innovation on the menu. All other aspects of your experience as a customer don't change much, as the staff is not inspired and has no reason to take an innovative approach. I think it has become obvious where I am going with this example. In the long term, many customers most probably would prefer the restaurant run by a chef and a team with an innovative mindset.

What is the point with this analogy? Many people would argue that they use innovation methods, run innovation competitions, launch initiatives, and hold a modern innovation space in their company. In general, there is nothing wrong with this. But think about these methods, tools, and initiatives as recipes, tools, and further elements of the restaurant example. If there are no people with innovative mindsets in your company scenario, you probably won't achieve anything relevant in terms of innovation. 

There is a less polite saying well known in information processing: "Garbage in, garbage out." You can use the best methods and processes in the world. If there is no creative and visionary input and contribution from people to a process, the output most probably will be mediocre or disappointing. The reality in many industries is that companies talk a lot about innovation and try to show how innovative they are. But significant numbers of consumers sign up for a Revolut account to benefit from new financial services, order an electric car from Tesla, and buy a smartwatch from Apple. There is a sharp contrast between what the well-established companies think is innovative and what customers choose as innovations. 

In recent years, innovation spaces have become popular in companies. I appreciate this development, and I gained a couple of interesting insights. Employees from well-established businesses often sit around tables. They seem to use an innovation space more or less similar to their ordinary meeting rooms. Larger audiences sit in rows looking identical to what happens at larger meetings in companies. In brief: standstill. I often got the impression that these mostly static scenarios of business meetings where shifted to another location, the innovation space. And I suppose people just kept the familiar and well-practiced patterns of behavior. 

Amy Cuddy provides fascinating insights from her own and other research about the relations between body and mind in her book "Presence." There are strong influences in both directions that can lead to multiple effects.

Knowing about body-mind-relations, what would you expect from statical meetings in an innovation space? 

At this point, I will stop with analogies. Analogies are useful for explanations but can also harm innovations. Not a long time ago, a sentence like "We are the Uber of ..." might have been a good catchphrase in a pitch to get investors' attention. During innovation activities, an analogy can limit the results of all your efforts.

Elon Musk famously explained how first principle thinking regarding batteries could lead to the advanced approach Tesla needed and achieved for its affordable battery packs in their electric cars. Analogies would likely have let their thinking stuck to existing battery solutions. It takes much more effort to think through these subjects than just using an analogy. 

Both Elon Musk and Steve Jobs have been excellent examples of "thinking differently." For instants, it is also well known that Steve Jobs visited India and had experience in meditation. They represent what I call the "one-in-a-billion type of entrepreneur." Is it a coincidence that these exceptional, innovative entrepreneurs have been operating with mindsets that differ so much from what many people in other companies believe is relevant for innovation? I don't think so.

People are often surprised and feel inspired by my ideas. They ask me how I can come up with all these ideas and creative thoughts. The answer is simple: The key is my mindset!


The most underestimated element in innovation provides the most substantial leverage: The human mindset. In general, it looks like that entrepreneurs are more aware of the importance of mindset than other parts of the workforce. Many well-established companies still seem to believe that they are innovative and follow the apparent trends in innovation management. On the other side, significant numbers of consumers choose services and products from real innovators. 

Are you interested in developing a mindset for innovation? Let's talk and find out how I can help you. Schedule Your Free Discovery Call Now.

Sources and Recommendation

Cuddy, Amy. (2015). Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Retrieved from

Isaacson, Walter (2011). Steve Jobs. Retrieved from

Oxford English Dictionary (2020). "mindset". Retrieved from


Oxford English Dictionary (2020). "attitude". Retrieved from

Rose, Kevin (September 07, 2012). Foundation 20 // Elon Musk [Video]. Retrieved from


Thiebus, Sven (June 11, 2019). The Most Important Factor in Innovation is Humans. Retrieved from

Thiebus, Sven (2019). 10 Steps to Create a Mindset for Successful Technology Innovation. Retrieved from

Thiebus, Sven (October 07, 2019). 3 Reasons You Might Want to Change Your Watch to Foster Innovation in Your Company. Retrieved from

Vance, Ashley (2015). Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Retrieved from


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