Characteristics of Innovation: Essential Traits for Business Growth

8 min read

In business, innovation stands as a cornerstone for growth and success. But what exactly is innovation? According to Digital Leadership’s glossary on What is Innovation, innovation refers to the process of integrating computer-based technologies into an organization’s products, processes, and strategies to fundamentally change how it operates and interacts with various stakeholders. The importance of innovation cannot be overstated in today’s competitive business environment. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the characteristics of innovation that drive businesses forward.

As we explore the key characteristics of innovation, it’s essential to recognize the pivotal role that Digital Leadership plays in helping organizations harness the power of innovation for sustainable success through our innovation consulting services guiding organizations from strategy to execution which aligns seamlessly with the characteristics of innovation.  As an initial step, we provide an innovation blueprint to offer a clear roadmap, allowing businesses to choose tailored services aligned with their specific innovation needs and objectives. 

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What is Innovation

Innovation encompasses the integration of computer-based technologies into an organization’s products, processes, and strategies. It surpasses mere technology adoption, involving a profound redesign of business processes, and organizational structures and fostering an innovative culture aligned with the evolving digital landscape. Essentially, innovation represents a transformative shift in both the business and operating models of an organization.

The Operating Model Canvas holds pivotal significance in the realm of leveraging innovation characteristics for business advancement. Acting as a strategic compass, this canvas integrates key innovation traits seamlessly into various facets of the organizational structure. From defining the direction of innovation initiatives to aligning with customer-centric approaches and optimizing operational efficiency, the canvas ensures a holistic transformation.

Operating Model Canvas
The UNITE Operating Model Canvas
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG – Building on the work of Andrew Campbell at Al.

5 Key Characteristics of Innovation

Innovation is a multi-faceted concept, and its success hinges on specific characteristics that distinguish it from routine business operations. Let’s explore the five key characteristics that define innovation:

1. Relative Advantages

One of the fundamental innovation characteristics is its ability to provide a relative advantage over existing solutions. Innovations should offer improvements or benefits that make them preferable to current practices, creating a clear incentive for adoption.

2. Compatibility

Innovation must align with the existing practices and values within an organization. Compatibility ensures a seamless integration of the innovative solution into the current business environment without causing disruptions.

3. Complexity vs. Simplicity

Balancing complexity and simplicity is crucial in innovation. The solution should be sophisticated enough to address challenges effectively yet simple enough for users to understand and adopt without significant resistance.

4. Trialability

Innovation encourages a trial-and-error approach. The characteristic of trialability allows organizations to test innovations on a smaller scale before full-scale implementation, reducing the risk and potential negative impacts.

5. Observability

Visible results and benefits are essential for the successful adoption of innovation. Observability ensures that the positive outcomes of innovation are apparent and easily recognizable, motivating stakeholders to embrace change.

The UNITE Innovation approach model serves as a potent toolkit for businesses seeking to leverage the characteristics of innovation effectively. By incorporating key aspects such as problem-solving, uniqueness, and gaining a competitive edge, this model becomes a strategic guide for organizations aiming to maximize the impact of innovation in their operations.

Innovation Process - Process Approach
The Unite Innovation Approach
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG

Additional 5 Key Innovation Characteristics

While the five key characteristics lay the foundation for innovation, several additional traits contribute to its success:


Creativity fuels the ideation process, generating innovative ideas and solutions that can transform business operations.


Innovation often involves stepping into uncharted territories. A willingness to take calculated risks is a key characteristic of successful innovation.


In a rapidly evolving business landscape, adaptability is crucial. Innovations should be flexible enough to accommodate changes and evolving market needs.


Innovation thrives in a collaborative environment. Engaging diverse perspectives and fostering teamwork can lead to breakthrough solutions.

Customer Focus:

A customer-centric approach ensures that innovations address real needs and provide value to end-users.

Characteristics of an Innovator

Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum; it is driven by individuals with a unique set of characteristics. Let’s explore the persona of an innovator:

Defining the Innovator Persona

Innovators possess a distinctive blend of traits that set them apart. They are visionaries who can navigate the complexities of the business landscape. We identify 12 characteristics of innovative people:

  1. Continuous Reflection: Embracing constant self-assessment for ongoing personal and professional development.
  2. Unattached Exploration: Cultivating a curiosity that thrives in unfamiliar territories, fostering open-mindedness.
  3. Iterating Between Abstract and Concrete Thinking: Seamlessly translating visionary ideas into practical, real-world solutions.
  4. Action-oriented: Proactively implementing ideas, taking calculated risks, and turning concepts into reality.
  5. Opportunity-Focused: Identifying potential in challenges, envisioning and creating transformative solutions.
  6. Mental Resilience: Bouncing back from setbacks, viewing failures as learning experiences for future success.
  7. Intellectual Humility: Acknowledging limitations, fostering collaboration, and valuing diverse perspectives.
  8. Courage: Embracing uncertainty, taking bold risks, and challenging the status quo for transformative change.
  9. Sensitivity Towards Uncertainties: Adapting to dynamic environments, turning unpredictability into inspiration.
  10. Designing Valuable Experiments: Structuring purposeful tests that provide meaningful insights for iterative development.
  11. Extracting Learning: Distilling knowledge from experiences, shaping future endeavours and the innovation process.
  12. Implementing Learning and Idea Adaptation: Applying acquired knowledge, ensuring dynamic and evolving innovation.

These characteristics collectively define an innovator’s mindset, emphasizing the importance of continuous learning, resilience, and adaptability.

Navigating the Landscape of Innovation Adoption

Understanding how innovations are adopted within an organization is equally important. Let’s navigate the landscape of innovation adoption: The Diffusion of Innovations Theory, proposed by Everett Rogers, provides insights into how innovations spread through social systems over time.

  • Relative Advantage: A Cornerstone in Adoption: Innovations that offer a clear relative advantage over existing solutions are more likely to be adopted by organizations.
  • Trialability and Observability in Adoption Processes: The ability to trial and observe the impact of innovations allows organizations to make informed decisions during the adoption process.
  • Compatibility and Complexity: Influencing Adoption Rates: Innovations that align with existing practices (compatibility) and find the right balance between complexity and simplicity are more likely to be adopted seamlessly.

In conclusion, understanding the characteristics of innovation, the traits of innovators, and the dynamics of innovation adoption is crucial for businesses aiming to stay ahead in today’s competitive environment. Embracing innovation as a strategic imperative is at the core of Digital Leadership’s mission, where we guide organizations from strategy to execution, ensuring they create value for everyone they serve.

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