How to make everyone contribute to innovation

Many books and articles about famous innovation leaders focus on and celebrate one of three archetypes: the geek who first embraced a new technology; the progressive creator who came up with a game-changing idea for a new product; or the storyteller who charismatically leads and promotes a firm’s products. But what if you have a cognitive style that differs from these glamorous innovation archetypes? How can you play on your unique talents and strengths to contribute to the innovation efforts of your firm?

Corporate innovation involves many other roles and tasks requiring innovators with very different cognitive styles. When we look at the domain of innovation from a wider viewpoint, we can notice many other perspectives beyond the archetypical technological, revolutionary or promotional frames of innovation.

So, let’s discuss how to make everyone contribute to corporate innovation by revealing their cognitive styles and innovator profiles with the help of TIPS, Thinkergy’s innovation people profiling method.

Innovation requires more than just coming up with ideas

One of the many learning activities we run in our TIPS training workshops invites delegates to link typical tasks that an innovation team needs to perform while working on an innovation project to the TIPS innovator profiles. Allow me to play a variation of this exercise with you now: Suppose you had to select colleagues for an innovation team to work on a major innovation challenge of your company. Who in your team, business unit or company is the best person to:

  • do secondary research on the innovation case and check on perceived facts and assumptions?
  • give advice on new technologies and trends related to the challenge?
  • come up with bold ideas that push boundaries?
  • convincingly pitch a top idea to key idea supporters?
  • consult on customers’ needs, wants and dreams?
  • run an idea activation project and manage the project team?
  • critique an idea concept and tell you what’s wrong with it?
  • review financial data or legal documents related to the innovation case?
  • explore anthropological or philosophical questions related to an innovation challenge?
  • roll up the sleeves and get hands-on in a rapid prototyping exercise?

Do you have someone in mind for each activity?

This little exercise can help us to understand that people a) differ in their cognitive preferences, talents and strengths, b) are good at and enjoy different work activities, and c) can add value and contribute to an innovation project in different roles and activities that are aligned to their preferred styles, talents and strengths.

Going beyond the project-side of innovation, we can similarly notice many other innovation-related roles and work activities that require people with different cognitive styles, strengths and talents. Thanks to TIPS, we can now give each of those “innovator types” a profile name and specific roles or activity niches where they can shine with their unique cognitive styles and talents.

Introducing how each innovator type can contribute to innovation

Many of the celebrated innovation leaders mentioned above are Conceptualizers, Ideators or Promoters who often create new products and start new companies to market them. All situated at the Ideas-base in TIPS, these profiles are:

  • the first to pick up new trends and emerging technologies (geeky Conceptualizers such as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg),
  • turn them into revolutionary new products (progressive Ideators such as Walt Disney, Thomas Edison or the older Steve Jobs), and
  • create a buzz for them in the market (enticing Promoters such as the young Steve Jobs or “ad man” David Ogilvy).

These profiles cover three fundamental perspectives on innovation: strategic-technological (Conceptualizer), progressive-revolutionary (Ideators) and marketing-driven and promotional (Promoter).

But how about the other TIPS profiles and their perspectives on innovation?

  • Partners (such as the hotel group founders J.W. Marriott or Conrad Hilton) take a customer-centered and social view on innovation. Being situated at the People base of TIPS (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems), they enjoy working on human-centered innovation projects because compared to all TIPS profiles, they are intimately familiar with their customers’ wants, needs and desires. Moreover, they like to get involved in and contribute to social innovation initiatives that aim to help the less fortunate in society.
  • Systematizers (such as the steel industrialists Andrew Carnegie or Lakshmi Mittal) approach innovation more from a systemic and procedural perspective. So, entrust a Systematizer with the tasks of setting up the formal innovation system in your company: organizing the innovation function; defining the processes of how the organization intends to pursue innovation; implementing an IT-driven idea and innovation management system; and specifying the metrics to track the firm’s innovation management performance. In an innovation project, call upon Systematizers in the critical Evaluation-stage towards the end of the process, when they can help an innovation team to “get real” and give feedback on what’s wrong with an idea or prototype.
  • Theorists (like the economist John Maynard Keynes or the young Elon Musk) look at innovation from a research-driven or scientific point of view. Operating from the Theories base, they create or transform base research or —nowadays more often— applied research findings into tangible know-how and technologies that Conceptualizers or Ideators can pick- up and transform into new innovations. In innovation projects, Theorists are valuable contributors in the initial Xploration stage, where they challenge an innovation team to critically check on the viability of facts, assumptions and beliefs related to the innovation project case.
  • Organizers (such as the Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher or Walmart founder Sam Walton) cover the operational and organizational aspects on innovation. They prefer to work on more hands-on, down-to-earth innovation initiatives that aim to continuously or incrementally improve the processes used to produce or deliver an innovation to the market. They also enjoy taking care of all organizational details related to innovation events or conferences so that everyone feels comfortable and well served.
  • Technocrats (such as the Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing or Microsoft co-founder Mark Allen) tend to approach innovation more from a quantitative or administrative point of view. They enjoy taking care of programmatic and financial calculations (e.g. calculating return on investment or market valuations) as well as legal aspects related to an innovation (reviewing legal documents to protect or administer a firm’s intellectual property rights).
  • Coaches (such as the psychologists Carl Gustav Jung or Abraham Maslow) represent the philosophical and psychological perspective on innovation (“Why do humans innovate, and who benefits really from it? How can the discipline innovation elevate the human lot and spirit?”). As Coaches are as rare in real life as unicorns (especially in the business world), let’s not go into detail here about how they precisely animate their noble intentions into tangible innovation contributions and move on to the next profile.
  • Experimenters take an iterative and experimental view on innovation. They passionately look for ways to either scale a viable product to allow for much deeper market penetration (represented by systematic Experimenters such as car maker Henry Ford or McDonald’s Ray Kroc), or to significantly upgrade an existing product by elevating its performance and design aesthetics (exemplified by imaginative Experimenters such as the inventor and entrepreneur James Dyson or Apple’s lead designer Jonathan Ive). In an innovation project, Experimenters are the first to roll up their sleeves for rapidly prototyping a promising idea concept in the Evaluation stage.

What about the eleventh and final innovator profile in TIPS, the All-Rounder? As they cover all four TIPS bases (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems), All-Rounders can flexibly contribute to innovation in many different roles and activities.

Conclusion

William Shakespeare wrote: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances.” What’s true for life in general is as for the world of innovation: Everyone can play an important role in innovation and contribute to a firm’s innovation success — but better ensure that we do so in harmony with everyone’s natural talents, preferred cognitive style and innovator profile.

Have you become curious to find out more about the TIPS innovator profiles of yourself and other players in your team? Contact us to find out how you can purchase a coupon for our TIPS online personality test.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2018