Return to site

Kevin Dalby Reveals What Sets Innovators Apart From the Rest of Us

Originally published on

What does it take to become an innovator? Although it is believed that some people are born geniuses, anyone can become an innovator in their field of study or work. Whether you are a student, aspiring scientist, educator, or entrepreneur, you can learn the skills necessary to develop innovative products and solutions. In this article, Kevin Dalby – a UT Austin professor and research scientist, shares his insights on what sets innovators apart from the rest of us and shares tips on how you also can become an innovator. 

#1. Empathy & Emotional Intelligence

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it,” said Thomas Edison. Ideas that have no value to society are rarely considered practical innovations. To understand the needs and wants of society, innovators leverage their emotional intelligence. Observing and empathizing with people helps them detect what solutions are needed. Innovations don’t happen in a vacuum; they are often a product of teamwork and collaboration, especially when bringing the idea to life. 

#2. Creativity 

Innovative solutions require out-of-the-box thinking and creativity. Once innovators see a problem or opportunity that they can fill, they get to work. The innovative process includes steps such as:

  • Questioning; 
  • Observing; 
  • Networking; 
  • Experimenting; 
  • Associational thinking; 

By following this framework, creative minds can embrace the possibility of new opportunities and solutions to the problem, observe the situation, note small changes that can be made, utilize perspectives of people from different backgrounds and experiences, and experiment with implementing the solutions to draw conclusions. Of course, this entire process requires professionals’ creativity and the ability to stay open-minded to even the most “impossible” solutions.

#3. Constant Learning 

One of the essential traits for an innovator is lifelong learning. Only curious, flexible, and versatile professionals can make creative decisions and find solutions based on their knowledge from different fields and industries. It is well known that many inventors were extremely informed in various areas, which allowed them to bridge gaps between different disciplines. Furthermore, having extensive knowledge of multiple topics helps to borrow ideas from one field and use them as inspirations in another area. 

Can anyone become an innovator? 

Although many innovators had inquisitive minds from their childhood, several skills can be learned to boost your creativity and ability to innovate.  

First, be open to new experiences and information. It is great to be a specialist in your area of expertise, but if you have other interests, expand your knowledge of different disciplines.

Secondly, ask questions. People often limit themselves by doing the same things over and over. Instead of settling for solutions you’ve used for years, ask “What if?” and write down ideas that come into your mind. Many ideas that are now a reality seemed to be “unrealistic” some years ago. By asking the right questions, innovators could challenge the status quo and develop solutions to make the impossible possible

About Kevin Dalby

Kevin Dalby is a UT Austin professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry. He is studying the mechanisms of cancer to find new innovative treatments for various types of cancer. Dr. Dalby was granted nearly $5 million by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to support his efforts in cancer treatment discovery.