You Can Be an Innovator, Even if You'd Never Call Yourself One

Think about how you'd describe yourself. Would you say you're an innovator? If you said no, you may still surprise yourself. New research suggests that innovation is much more about what you do than who you are.

Economists at the University of California, San Diego, wanted to find out if innovation is an innate tendency or something anyone can do when asked. They set up a contest to design a mobile app; about half the participants were students who didn't volunteer for the challenge, but were offered $100 to compete. As it turned out, there was no statistical difference between winning submissions from self-selected innovators and those who just showed up.

"If individuals are being held back by accurate beliefs about their ability to perform, as our results suggest, then efforts to help individuals overcome the psychological barriers that inhibit their participation could potentially enhance innovative output across a wide range of settings," said co-author Graff Zivin in a press release. "This shows that psychological barriers that, if overcome, could meaningfully contribute to the innovation process."

This may sound familiar if you're familiar with the theory of having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Individuals who believe their skills are fixed and innate tend to stagnate after a certain point, while those who believe in their ability to learn new skills often do. It's just one more reminder to continually reconsider the story you tell about yourself, both to other people and into a mirror.