Successful innovators may seem caviler, but really they are vast and complex beings. As the great American poet, Walt Whitman, said of the prophetic role of a poet, "They contain multitudes."
Innovators function in close to same role as shamans did in hunting and gathering cultures. They see emerging patterns. They are the sense-makers. They articulate potential futures for the organization. Any sane culture needs a small cadre of people to serve this function.
Playing the Game (While Knowing It's Just a Game). If you get the corporate innovation keynote speakers and leaders off site and off record, they quickly take off their rigid company masks. The fact that they know it is a mask and that they are playing a role is a key factor, as awareness of a reality deeper than work permeates their ability to zoom in and zoom out.
In plain language they are savvy enough to identify and navigate the politics of a place without getting quagmired in them. Knowing such things are merely a game allows for a healthy detachment.
Many Perspectives at Once. This ability to maintain a variety of perspectives at the same time is one of the superpowers of really good innovators. Such innovators recognize what meets the need of a user in a meaningful way, how it makes sense for an organization to activate this insight, all while forecasting what internal and market hurdles need to be overcome to launch an innovative product or solution.
Saying It Well: The Magic of Creativity. Humans are born to solve problems and create new things. It is our birthright and a great gift of life. We forget that we make things with our voice by articulating new thoughts and concepts. After all, what is an organizational culture but a shared dream that aligns the collective will? This culture has provided a voice around which people gather and act in accord.
That end objective has been brought to life through the human power of articulated language. Language so potent it attracts capital, other people, tax incentives from major cities, and even those masters of playing defense, lawyers and insurance companies.
Slowing Down: The best innovators invest time discerning new patterns and work hard to garner insights. This immersive process seems to be polar opposite of the FASTER & BETTER! model of conventional business wisdom, which is really just a masked anxiety. Slowing down sets those pressures and fears at bay, allowing for a space of new possibility to midwife concepts rich in new value.
So forget the madness that people "want what they want when they want it."
Life/Work Balance: My friends in marketing say this is just how people are today and they have to work 70 hours a week without a break to appease this desire. My friends in the start up world tell me that is why they go to Accelerators, to quicken the pace. My innovation friends just shrug off this mass cultural delusion, knowing that they have interests outside of work--and these interests recharge them.