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Do women make better innovators?

Posted: 11th March 2019

Here’s how a conversation with my 10-year-old daughter went this morning; “what are you going to do today?” she asks. “I’m going to write an article to explain why women can be better innovators”, I said. To which she replies, “Aren’t we passed all that gender nonsense, fireman and hair dressers and all that”.  I can’t fault the logic and it’s something I might have said to my mother, who brought me up to ignore gender stereo-types.

At Potter Innovation, we are on a mission to demonstrate that anyone willing can learn how to innovate, no matter who they are or their educational background. Give us the willing and we will deliver practical training and tools to get them working smarter and more innovatively.

So, what right have I got to champion women in Innovation? Quite simply I am a woman who believes that innovating makes a positive difference to the things that we care about the most. It is therefore deeply rewarding and, learning how to go about something that has not been done before leads to greater resilience and an ability to better deal with change. I trained in the United States and I am the only female Innovation Engineering Black Belt this side of the Atlantic. On campus the students coined the phrase; it’s about “doing cool stuff that matters”.

I want to give women the confidence to come join me. I want to see more female role models in innovation. I don’t want to exclude anyone; diversity and collaboration are the best platform for creativity. However, here’s a depressing statistic. In the UK, women only account for 7% of inventors on patent applications (the US only fares slightly better at 10%).

Now, whilst I believe anyone willing can learn how to innovate, I’d like to give the girls a confidence boost. For example, on average our Innovation Engineering Quick Start Classes have comprised 40% women and 60% men yet two-times as many women have gone on to complete their Blue Belt qualification.

I know that in the US, at Eureka! Ranch, they have seen a disproportionate number of female leaders and CEOs adopt Innovation Engineering thinking within their organisations and/or teams to great effect. Research shows that the female brain is hard-wired for empathy, multitasking and understanding complex situations. This is a great physiological start for innovation! For example, empathy means it will feel natural to a woman to run cooperative and integrated teams where collaboration across functions is the norm. Add this to potentially a better understanding of customer needs and a knack for creative problem solving and the chances of innovation to deliver real value increase.

What makes someone good at innovation?

Successful innovation requires an open mind. You must be prepared to learn continuously, and not be scared to admit that you don’t have all the answers. When you can admit this, you become a more successful collaborator, and collaboration is essential for innovation. It is also important to learn through experimentation and prototyping. This means getting on with stuff you don’t how to do and accepting failing and learning as part of the process.

This mindset is very hard for some people to grasp, male or female. Also, the more status you gain and the harder it becomes to admit you don’t have all the answers. Egos often get in the way and people tend to try to ‘save face’ by pretending they know it all.

In my experience, women are more likely to have an open mind and they tend to be better than men at not letting their ego get in the way. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen two-times as many women go on to become certified as Innovation Engineering Blue Belts following our training.

So, I applaud Little Miss Inventor and thank Adam Hargreaves for putting her out there. Creating role models and removing barriers, real and imagined must be our goal if we are to maximise the innovative capability of our diverse society.

Helen Potter

Co-founder and CEO, Potter Innovation




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Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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