Being an innovator isn’t so much a title as it is a way of life.
When you are an innovator, you don’t just create one new thing and throw in the towel. Innovation is a perpetual process wherein the creator continues to look for new things the world doesn’t know it wants or needs yet–and then sets out to create them. Inventing one new product, service, business model, algorithm, etc., isn’t the goal.
The goal is to create many new things, many times, over the course of your lifetime.
From the very beginning of my career, I have always looked up to innovative companies like Google and Nike. What I admire about them is their tenacity, their ability to not only imagine a different future but then successfully go out into the world to make it a reality.
As an entrepreneur myself, the question of how and where to innovate is something I ask myself every day. And while I am proud of our innovations over the years at my company ThirdLove (like being one of the first lingerie companies to prove the viability of selling direct-to-consumer), I am also aware that we have a long way forward to go.
You’re never “done” innovating.
In order for you to stay ahead of the curve, continuously design the future, and be a true leader in your industry, I have put together what I like to call the Innovator’s Checklist.
Here are the four things you need to do to remain in a constant state of creativity and innovation.
1. Stay curious, and question the things around you other people see as “status quo.”
The first thing about innovators is their unquenchable thirst for knowledge. They are forever curious.
The beginning of all great inventions in history started with a question. Why does this exist? Why is this happening? Why are we doing it this way? And in those moments of question was a resounding rationale from the masses. There is always a reason as to why things are the way they are. Which means in order to create something new, you need to be all right with the fact that not everyone is going to see what you see in that moment.
More important, you have to be excited by the idea of change–not daunted by it.
And you have to have the drive to see things through to the end.
2. Bring other people along on the journey who push your style of thinking.
It’s one thing to be able to see the world differently and come up with new, interesting ideas. It’s entirely another to inspire enough people around you to bring that vision to life.
If you are an innovator and you want to own the thing you’re building, then you need to learn how to bring other people along for the journey. This means being able to speak confidently and passionately about the future you’re building. This means being able to explain to others why the change you are proposing is meaningful in the world.
The ability to communicate effectively doesn’t come easily to every innovator. So if this is a growth area for you, make it a priority to write, speak publicly, and present often.
The only way to improve is to practice.
3. Build excitement around your vision.
The Apple keynotes have become iconic in the business world for one reason: their ability to build excitement.
When Apple unveils a new product, it isn’t just trying to sell a new gadget to the world or market its brand. Above all things, the company inspires people to take action–and to see the future through the lens of all the things Apple stands for: creativity, invention, thinking different, etc.
The reality is, you could invent the best product in the market, but if no one knows about it, you’re stuck. And not only do people need to know about it, they need to be excited enough about the product to tell five other people about it–who then get excited enough to tell five more people, and so on.
4. Always measure your goals, and be honest about your progress.
To be a successful innovator, you really need to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself critical questions.
Am I creating the right thing, for the right group of people, for the right reasons? Is this working the way I had originally planned? If not, are there changes I can make? Is there still some value in it? How long will this continue to be effective? What needs to be iterated on next steps?
This reflective process is true for any and all goal-setting in life. The only way to know whether you’re moving forward is to create measures for success and track your progress.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.