Distinguished Professor, Maastricht University; Director, M4i, The Maastricht MultiModal Molecular Imaging institute; Member of the Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Netherlands
Qualities of an innovative thinker? Approach the world as if no boundaries on what is possible exist. Or stated differently, think in possibilities and not in restrictions. As soon as you think in restrictions, you limit your own possibilities to move beyond the state-of-the-art. This quality is amplified if combined with a healthy dose of curiosity regarding the world around you. Many innovations also occur serendipitously and unexpectedly following a surprise discovery or meeting with a colleague that asks an unexpected question that triggers you to think out of the box.
Making the most out of your invention… Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration! The translation of innovations into an applied domain requires the involvement of domain experts and people that complement one's own expertise to maximize impact. Making the most out of an invention/innovation is, just like the research itself, teamwork. I have been lucky enough to work with a very diverse team that helps me see and evaluate different perspectives. This is vital to avoid getting stuck in a particular line of thought or approach and to keep on innovating.
Picking a problem… Find the most impactful question first, and define where you, with your own expertise and with the expertise of a team of talented colleagues, can make a difference. Next find the right internal or external collaborators who are interested in such a development. Ideally it should be an interdisciplinary activity – that helps to expand the horizons of all involved.
Book for scientists? The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.