Self-awareness: an indispensable tool when it comes to innovation

Kim Anderson reveals new ways to gain a competitive advantage.

Reading time: 4 minutes

Increasingly, I work with leaders who use design thinking, agile development, and other innovation-growing methodologies. In my experience these tools are at their most potent when used by highly self-aware people.

No matter what methods or techniques your organisation uses to increase innovative capabilities, individuals, teams and leaders all benefit that much more when they are operating from a place of higher self-awareness.

Self-aware employees are sure of their strengths and gifts in any situation, can guard against unconscious biases, and know how to bring everyone else along with them in their quest for innovative success.

Self-aware people also understand why others are different to them, and find it easier to have empathy for those whose shoes they’ve never walked in.

No matter what role people hold, or which problem they’ve been asked to creatively solve, there are a range of ways in which they can access their spirit of innovation and bring a fresh perspective to even the oldest problems.

Open your mind with empathy

When we think through a problem, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the person who will become the end user.

What will they need? What problems do they need help solving? What will the potential solution feel like or look like, how will it work or be accessed?

Self-awareness is our strongest tool. We must use it to empower ourselves to build a career – and a life – that’s designed for who we are and how we want to live

These kinds of questions are a great jumping-off point when you’re looking for an innovative solution to a business challenge.

Exercise idea: Find someone who is an opposite type of person to you and ask each other a series of questions around a topic or subject matter; dig a bit deeper on their answers and later you can consider what was similar and different about the answers you both gave. Great for limbering up your empathy!

Good communication makes great collaboration

Part of self-awareness is knowing both how you communicate, and how well you communicate. Having the best ideas in the world will get you nowhere if you don’t land them well with the others in the room.

Knowing who you’re talking to, and what they’ll need from you in order to get behind your idea is key; how you pitch your idea to the team will be the thing that makes it stand or fall.

Exercise idea: To give everyone an opportunity to input into idea generation and conversation you need to be aware of the preferences of everyone involved.

Some people will happily speak up, others will appreciate solo reflection time, others will enjoy interactive exercises.

Make it your job to find out what motivates other people, and make space for their communication style too.

Look back and learn

Simply landing on a solution and implementing it well isn’t the end of the process. We should all be lifelong learners.

Part of the innovation process is reflecting on how you showed up as the project unfolded – the good, the bad, and the ugly.



There should never be an end-point in your journey of self-awareness, and looking at how you perform in an innovative environment can be one of the steeper parts of the learning curve.

Exercise idea: Ask for feedback from others on how they saw you perform. How do they think you could be even more effective? What could you stop, start, and continue doing?

If you’re truly honest with yourself, do you have blind spots in your perception of your performance?

Use your failures to move you forward

Much like innovation, self-awareness isn’t something you are going to get right every time. We should take every failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.

In both innovation and self-awareness, we can be clear on what success looks like for us. Whether it’s a project output or a successful meeting, having a good understanding of this can help you assess whether you achieved it or not.

Exercise idea: Create a journal of failures or feedback that indicates room for improvement. Reflect on these – how can you improve next time? What will you learn from this?

Go back and note how you iterated your approach to overcome this failure the next time; was it more successful?

These self-awareness techniques can be used or repeated at any stage of the innovation process. Self-awareness is our strongest tool. We must use it to empower ourselves not only in an innovative environment, but to build a career – and a life – that’s designed for who we are and how we want to live.


About the author

Kim Anderson is a designer for Insights



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