Human Sensibilities for Innovation

quelling chaos; quickening innovation

Human Sensibilities for Innovation

Often people seek to learn tools and methods to use when doing design and innovation work, however these are not enough on their own. To have an innovation orientation is to cultivate a set of sensibilities – that is a set of human dispositions and abilities – which may come naturally as instinct or be nurtured by experience. These orientate a person when navigating the emergent and ambiguous experiences of real innovation work.

At Quello, we believe there are twelve essential sensibilities for doing innovation work. These also make up our organisational innovation DNA.

Twelve Human Sensibilities for Innovation: Curious; Generative; Resourceful; Imaginative; Empathetic; Playful; Brave; Utilitarian; Experimental; Integrative; Perserverant; Collaborative

CURIOUS – Ask questions even when there’s nobody around to answer them, particularly when you weren’t directed or prompted to do so. Open your eyes, ears and mind to new things, and to perceive old things in a new way. Seek a deeper knowledge about what is going on and why things are so. Wonder what is possible and see problems as opportunities. Wander, explore and seek fresh contexts and perspectives. In innovation work this shows up as looking, listening and inquiring before creating. It’s also about keeping an open inquiring mind throughout the innovation process.

GENERATIVE – It’s not enough to simply have ideas and thoughts. Turn those thoughts into something real and visible that others can interact with in the world. Be a maker. Things you make are not expected to work, however be fluent in translating thought to something material. In innovation work this looks like producing material objects – even in raw incomplete form – for others to touch and use outside the laboratory or workroom in a real context.

RESOURCEFUL – Make use of what is available immediately around you. Reduce excessive consumption and use only what’s necessary. Allow constraints to stimulate creativity. Be a self-starter without external support, and use limited resources to get moving without delay. In innovation work this shows up as making plans for action that require very little money to execute.

IMAGINATIVE – Open your mind to what could be, beyond what currently exists with no censorship about whether it is feasible or desirable. Use powers of imagination to consider what else might be going on in a situation, when you don’t actually know. Believing that your ideas and thoughts have the power to change the future. Use the power of imagination to shape a kinder world, and to consider the undesirable things to be avoided. In innovation work this can show up as wild descriptive stories of potential futures that inspire others to get involved and contribute to making the imagined real. 

EMPATHETIC – Be in service to another; not to self. Be with people who don’t look like you; act like you; think like you; or feel like you. Avoid making innovations that are only for people like you. Step into another person’s perspective. Learn what is useful to fit a design to another’s beliefs and experiences more closely. Be careful to insulate yourself from the raw emotion that can come from deeply empathetic listening. Be capable of withholding judgement and not denigrating another person’s choices or narratives. In innovation work, this shows up as research in the field to learn from real people in real situations; and using that knowledge to inform choices back in the lab/workroom.

PLAYFUL – Have a playfully light attitude. Be childlike in an activity doing it just for fun, without any specific purpose. Behave without constraints in ways that seem irresponsible to an adult orientation. Act freestyle without reliance on agenda, methodology or process. Deal comfortably with surprises and revel in uncertainty. In innovation work, this looks like conducting workshops or meetings without the typical business attitude of efficiency and control – having no agenda nor stated outcomes.

BRAVE – Take risks. Take the paths untrodden and venture to frontiers. Take a prioneering stance and break with tradition and status quo. Act without needing guarantees or safety nets. Keep your nerve in difficult situations. Back yourself with confidence without a lot of external support. In innovation work, this looks like accepting challenging work for which you might not have been trained and making a start without a lot of information. 

UTILITARIAN – Create things that are useful and can be used. Usefulness is in the ‘eye of the beholder’ or rather ‘the hands of the user’ – when something is fit-for-purpose. Know who has the purpose; what their purpose is; and the criteria that determines something is a good fit. Design is not art; design is about utility (though well-designed things can be aesthetically pleasing as well as functionally-satisfying). Produce things that are truly valuable to someone. In innovation work, this looks like real people using what was created and giving constructive feedback about how it’s making a positive difference in their life.

EXPERIMENTAL – Try out an idea or test a hypothesis for the purpose of learning more about it. Give things a go that are unproven. Plan, conduct, analyse and advance knowledge in the format of an experiment. Think like a beginner or novice to question assumptions of what you believe to be so.  In innovation work this can look like multiple simultaneously-conducted substantively-different products to explore what has the most effect. It’s more work and seems messier than traditional development – but the objective is learn what does and doesn’t work.

INTEGRATIVE – Acknowledge and utilise both intuitive and analytical perspectives. Play with both abstract and concrete details. Navigate both convergence and divergence as appropriate to the context. Simultaneously hold and mix many perspectives without needing to reduce something to a single thing. Move fluently between multiple perspectives, drawing on the value of them all. Find connections within the perspectives and explore the interplay of these for insight and opportunities. In innovation work, this can show up as conflict where people who hold a preference for one perspective resist and reject other perspectives. It’s important to know your personal preferences and accommodate preferences that feel odd to you.

PERSERVERANT – Keep going when it gets rough and tough. Rest when tired – then get back to the work. Pick up yourself and others after something goes wrong. Learn and keeping moving with a positive attitude. Bounce forward quickly after your efforts don’t produce success. Endure through challenging times with tenacity to keep try different things and pivot to new direction when indicated. In innovation work this can look like pep talks from trusted colleagues and confidants; and rituals to move positively through the rough moments.

COLLABORATIVE – Work with others in a way that shares values; and value is shared. Collaboration is much more than a coordinated or co-operative effort it’s rich interactions. Tap into the knowledge of multiple talents, disciplines and frameworks that might stimulate creative tension and require assumptions to be exposed and examined. Allow the sum of the work of all to be greater than the individuals parts.  In innovation work, this shows up as involving people affected by a problem or opportunity, providing meaningful ways for them to shape the innovation outcomes and the innovation process.


When looking for effective collaborators and potential partners in our work, these sensibilities – more than any specific skill – are what we seek and value. Many of the non-client activities we do in our business are to intentionally cultivate and enrich these sensibilities. From our own learning and experience, we share practical tips and wisdom so others can develop these sensibilities too.


Creative Commons License

This work by Quello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *