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Innovator Archetypes


We spend a lot of time talking about different types of innovation. People interpret innovation in many different ways, but are there also different type of innovators?

I have a hypothesis.

My hypothesis is that there are different archetypes of innovators in organisations who run innovation programs and each has a particular contribution,

By my personal observations, an organisation appears to have the following innovator archetypes:

The up&coming

These individuals believe they have an innovation, but might be scared to submit them into the program, have submitted once, but not again because they might have been “shot-down” or rejected or it simply didn't fit into what the company perceives as an innovation.

These people are potentially the future of innovation for the company. It is important to keep feeding the innovation machine with new ideas, and keep this group motivated, keep them engaged, keep them submitting, keep them trusting the process.

Innovation is all about thinking outside of the box. Innovation programs constantly need a supply of fresh thinking. It is important to consider growing their talent, informing and teaching them more about innovation and exposing them or partnering them with fellowgenerators.

Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The generators:

These individuals might have been in the business for a while, or understand their particular business really well, or they might not. They might just have a particular appetite for creative solutions.

They demonstrate confidence in themselves and their ideas, enough to take a chance and put the time in to submit them.

Generators will have a flurry of inventions, improved processes, product ideas etc, which might or might not fit the brief, but they will never cease to think about and come up with new things. They are enticed by what the future could be. Give them a vision and they will find away to creatively source solutions. Good to be paired or given access to a Far-sighted. (Explained below).

However innovation is not just about creativity. These individuals might not be subject matter experts, and so it is likely that they have not thought through all the ins and outs of their ideas. A lot of the time they might feel disheartened with the amount of work that it would take to make their ideas actionable. T

“All creative people want to do the unexpected.” – Hedy Lamarr

The follow-throughs:

They share the same characteristics as generators, but in addition to submitting their ideas, they have the energy, belief, backup and will, to take their ideas from their birth state to fully grown and implemented.

It’s extremely important to keep these people. Not only do they contribute to the stories, myths and legends of the company culture, they also help to define success.

Generators could/should be partnered with follow-throughs, especially if they are virgin innovators with winning ideas. This will enhance the success of a generator and keep them equally engaged in the process.

“Any man who bears the ability of a polymath shall not be interfered with by specialty, he needs discipline to manage his behaviors and nurture his creativity.”* – Shawn Lukas

The farsighted:

There are people who are naturally born with vision. These individuals have an innate ability to see big picture and long term.

They dream of the future of work, improved processes, resolving HR issues, beautifying the building, etc., depending on their passions. But probably don’t submit their ideas due to the limits and constraints of what the organisations innovation program is looking for.

But, these visions help to convey a feeling for the future of the organization. It’s here where the up&coming, the generators and the follow-throughs are inspired to create and innovate.

Check in with your organisations innovation site, evaluation criteria and process. Is it restrictive for visionaries to convey their ideas and stories. Your innovation program is probably looking for the next income generating idea for your business, but if the internal mechanisms for your organisation are outdated, old or dysfunctional, it is unlikely that it will inspire your staff to help you find the "next big thing".

This is not meant to be a platform for people to just complain about what it is they are not happy with, but often visions start here and grow if asked the right questions.

These people are good at telling stories and often emote, but their strengths do not necessarily lie in creating business cases. The far sighted probably would prefer to hand off their visions or collaborate with follow-throughs and generators.

The persuaders:

Persuaders are people in the business that through their positions, leadership qualities and their credibility or expertise are able to support or oppose an idea.

They influence others and are generally good communicators. Their thumbs up on an idea can mean the difference between losing, a quick win or big win idea.

You need to be sensitive of their influence on the culture of innovation and their natural biases towards people and types of ideas. Persuaders should be utilized in groups rather than as individuals, especially if they are put into a position where they must assess ideas so as not to be weighted in a particular direction or position.

Ultimately persuaders help drive innovation, they help others understand the importance of a particular idea and will influence people to make a decision. Sometimes it’s the right, and sometimes it’s the wrong decision. Their passion alone can help to bring innovative ideas home to bear fruit.

“Realize that everything connects to everything else.” – Leonardo da Vinci

The un-packers/deciphers

These are people who are able to unpack submitted ideas and decipher them. They are crucial to the innovation process. It’s important that there are people in the business that are able to unpack an idea or decipher a vision to understand its underlying meaning and be able to see if it can work in the business.

Perhaps the visionary initially saw the potential being applied to their business, but it would actually work better or be more efficient for a different area. It’s the job of The Decipher to realise this, speak up and more forward. These types have the arduous job of facilitating conversations between the farsighted, generators, follow-through and The Up&Coming.

In part, their job can be to persuade the persuader to the other side of the fence. They often have a holistic understanding of the business and have an innate ability to quickly see the feasibility of a particular idea.

It’s also important that these people are balanced in their assessments of ideas, equally seeing its big-picture value, the future, numbers and project viability and heart of the idea. This group of people should be used when ideas have been filtered into the second step of evaluation.

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - Einstein

So how do we deepen innovation culture in the company?

An organisation, community or group of people should have a mutual purpose or a defined and clear goal line. The path to that goal should be adjusted as you move towards it and as the market or industry requires it. But the goal should always remain the light at the end of the tunnel. I personally believe our mutual purpose in innovation should be to help leap frog an organisation

In order to do so you will need the majority of the company buying into the need of developing a culture of innovation. Without the momentum of the masses, and the buy-into the innovation and digital culture, you could be left behind.

In addition you should not rely heavily on one type of innovator. The world, business and technology is moving towards a multi-potentialite environment. Meaning, you might have a variety of interests but you generate specified and personalised talents, skills and interests.

“Multipotentiality is an educational and psychological term referring to the ability of a person, particularly one of intellectual or artistic curiosity, to excel in two or more different fields. It can also refer to an individual whose interests span multiple fields or areas, rather than being strong in just one. Such individuals are called “multipotentialites.” On the contrary, those whose interests lie mostly within a single field are called “specialists.”-http://multipotentialite.info/

This can be leveraged to intensify efforts in a particular area that you are exceptional at, and like a conveyor belt, move it to the next step with a group of people that are experts in that particular part of the process. It also allows you to leverage the collective consciousness and corporate memory of the organization and breed a bigger culture of collaboration and inclusiveness.

In other words, based on my assessment of the types of innovators, you wouldn’t expect an Up&Coming to also be a Decipher.

They could, but the expectation shouldn’t be there, that expectation itself can kill the creative process and down the line, breed a disengagement from innovation as they would not be living up to expectations.

Still, innovation has to remain open ended in order to remain fresh and to create circulation. You need to leverage expertise in the business while keeping the process open, circulating and actionable.

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