Archive | Innovation Profiles

What kind of innovator does your business need?

In an earlier article titled Growing with the flow, I discussed that, like living things, companies develop by passing through distinct phases in their life cycle. What’s also true is that as a company develops from a startup to a multinational corporation, different basic innovator dimensions dominate at different stages of a company’s life. Let me explain.

The four dimensions of innovators

Over the past few years, I’ve been developing an innovation-focused personality profiling system, and am currently fine-tuning it for market release in the first quarter of 2014. This system that we call TIPS is based on the idea that your natural work style, thinking style, life style and innovation style depend on the mix of four basic dimensions that drive your mental focus and energy. These four dimensions are: THEORIES, IDEAS, PEOPLE, and SYSTEMS (which together make for the acronym TIPS).

When assessed on their combinations of these fundamental orientations, people fall into 11 types: Theorists, Ideators, Partners, Systematizers, Conceptualizers, Promoters, Organizers, Technocrats, Coaches, Experimenters, and All-rounders. Each of these innovation styles can contribute to a company’s innovation efforts, but different innovation styles come to the forefront at different stages in the corporate life cycle.

How different dimensions drive and affect a company during its life cycle

Let’s follow the life of a company to better understand how the need for the various innovator types — and their profiles — changes as it goes from a tiny new venture to a mighty behemoth:

Phase 1: Great companies start with great IDEAS
The idea on which a business is founded may be to fill an unmet need. An example of this is YouTube, whose founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim noticed the lack of an easy way to share videos on the web. The idea might also be to exploit a new technology or method, as in the case of Polaroid, founded by Edwin H. Land. The more radical, game-changing, and bold the idea, the more risky it is, the more reward it offers, and the more it can change the world. Ideators, the idea creators, often create and lead start-ups through their initial phase.

Phase 2: Spread the word about the IDEAS to PEOPLE
The second phase of company growth calls on both the IDEAS and the PEOPLE dimensions. Once a new product has been developed, then it’s time to build a brand and promote both the product and the brand. Among the 11 innovator types, the Promoter is most naturally suited to create convincing campaigns and to spread the word to the market.

Phase 3: Get PEOPLE for Sales and Delivery
This third phase is all about PEOPLE. You need to find the right people to sell your brand and product, and ensure satisfactory delivery and customer care. Partners are the innovator type most needed at this stage of a company’s development.

Phase 4: PEOPLE use SYSTEMS to tame the chaos
Sooner or later, if your sales team is successful, you will have a new problem: your organization will have problems keeping up with growth and maintaining consistent quality in products, delivery and services. This phase involves mostly the PEOPLE and SYSTEMS dimensions, as management realizes the need for organization at the front end, as well as a need for a more sophisticated back-end organization to ensure consistent service quality and customer care. The Organizer is the innovator type best suited to bring both order and a focus on service to a fast-growing company.

Phase 5: Build smooth-running SYSTEMS
As a company matures into a large corporation, the SYSTEMS dimension gains added importance. Senior management focuses on efficiency and productivity. The Systematizer is the right kind of person needed to drive and direct the transformation of a company into an efficient, productive corporation that is self-sustaining and not dependent on any one individual.

Phase 6: IDEAS improve the SYSTEMS
Once well-oiled SYSTEMS have been put in place, they can be shaped to improve the company. In order to do this, IDEAS are needed, along with the willingness to experiment and tinker with things to find the right business model, delivery channels, and partnerships to multiply the firm’s value. The Experimenter is the innovator type best able to figure out how to make the company successful in different markets, countries or even industries.

Phase 7: Reinvent yourself and start a new cycle — or decline and perish
By this time, your once-tiny startup has become a mature multinational corporation. However, natural systems have another phase in their life cycle: decline and, finally, death. Sooner or later, a new technology, business idea, or venture will emerge which challenges your company’s existence. If your company cannot adapt, renovate or reinvent itself — often because everyone in the company ignores the world-changing events around them — your company will start to decline, and may even perish, the victim of Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”.


What about THEORIES?

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that we’ve only mentioned the IDEAS, PEOPLE and SYSTEMS. Where do THEORIES come in? The answer is: Always.

Theories and information inform your actions at every phase of the cycle. However, the focus of the theories shifts as the other dimensions come to the fore.

  • When IDEAS are most important, you need conceptual or creativity-related theories, such as basic research.
  • When PEOPLE are the focus, your firm needs marketing and human capital-related knowledge.
  • Building strong, flexible SYSTEMS requires a good theoretical grounding in operations, efficiency, and process.

And those innovator types we haven’t mentioned yet —Theorists, Conceptualizers, Coaches, Technocrats, and All-Rounders? Their role is in creating, disseminating, and applying theories and information throughout all phases of the corporate life cycle.


This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post on August 15 2013.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2011.

The Creator-Manager Dilemma

In my work, I play two major roles. One is as an innovator, creating new ideas and products. But I am also a manager. Thinking about these roles has made me aware of a dilemma facing creators, and the companies that employ them.

Working styles
There are as many work styles and cognitive preferences as there are people, but there are some clear categories into which they fall. One major division is what I call “brain vs. brawn”. Do you engage in abstract conceptual thinking (brain), or do you prefer to do things (brawn)? Are you a “brainiac” or a “brawniac” based on your thinking style and work style — or a mix of both?

Braniacs are more abstract and strategic in their thinking, and look at the big picture. They think about the medium to long term, and enjoy pursuing and achieving what are often ambitious and challenging goals. They enjoy difficult conceptual problems, and are often the ones with breakthrough ideas.
Brawniacs, on the other hand, focus more on operational issues. They take care of the details. They enjoy completing a list of tasks, and their short-term focus gets those tasks done quickly and efficiently.

Creators and managers
As you may already have guessed, brawniacs make excellent managers. They are good at identifying and solving operational issues, paying attention to detail, ensuring that things are working smoothly, and producing results, at least in the short term. They are good at these things because they enjoy them.

In contrast, due to their conceptual cognitive preferences, brainiacs enjoy both thinking and creating new things. They don’t like dealing with the nuts and bolts. They are not managers, and they are unlikely to enjoy being managers, as it forces them to do things they don’t enjoy. Brainiacs can become great strategic leaders, but they will be, at best, competent managers.

The dilemma
Consider a hard-working, talented brainiac. The quality of her work brings her to the attention of higher management, who decide to “reward” her with a promotion to a managerial position. While she may enjoy the additional authority and status — not to mention an enhanced paycheck — she may soon come to regard her “reward” as a curse rather than a blessing. Now she has to direct and monitor the efforts of others, instead of doing the conceptual, analytical, and creative work she enjoys. She has to focus on short-term goals, and get her team to meet them. She spends much of her time in meetings. She has to pay attention to details, not only in her own work, but also in that of her team. She is likely to become frustrated and annoyed, perhaps even depressed, because as a manager, she can no longer do the conceptual, analytical or creative work that she enjoys and is good at.

This is the dilemma: in most organizations, brainiacs need to become managers if they are to advance their careers. They don’t enjoy being managers, and would add significantly more value to the organization if they did the work they are best at. This is a problem not only for the brainiac; it is also a problem for the organization, even for society at large. Requiring creators to become managers to rise in an organization is a misuse of talent, and risks losing valuable ideas from a creator-turned-manager who no longer has time to create.

The solution
Because they cannot execute their preferred work style and cannot play out their preferred conceptual thinking style, many disillusioned creator-managers wind up leaving their managerial jobs and becoming free agents, or starting new ventures where they can do the strategic, creative work they love, and hire others to take care of the operational details. In this way, many organizations lose top talent, and with them the investment they have made in them.

How can an organization resolve this problem? In industries such as software, some firms have dual career tracks. Employees can advance either as managers (e.g., managing a team of programmers) or as creators (e.g., writing software). Both the manager track and the creator track offer equal rewards, and those rewards are based on the value the individual adds to the organization, rather than, say, how many people work for them.

Are we likely to see many organizations adopt dual career tracks to resolve the creator-manager dilemma? Probably not. Measuring the value added by individuals is in general very difficult. But more importantly, even though a dual career track program may be desirable from the perspective of the shareholders of a firm, the managers of that firm are unlikely to implement it, as they would see it as threatening their own status and rewards.

If you’re a brawniac — a pragmatic doer and talented manager — be happy: you can do the managing that you love and that fits your cognitive preferences, and get both honored and paid well. But if you’re a brainiac, a conceptual thinker and creator stuck in a managerial role that doesn’t fit to your preferred thinking style and work style, think about whether you should stay for the money or cash out and start doing what you love and what is more in line with your cognitive preferences. That’s what I did, and it was the best decision I ever made.

The Brainiac-Brawniac Scheduling Conflict

In the article “creator-manager dilemma”, we discussed categorizing people based on their preferred work style as “brainiacs”, who like abstract conceptual thinking, and “brawniacs”, who like getting things done. Good managers are typically brawniacs, as they are good at the nuts and bolts of business, and produce short-term results. Brainiacs, on the other hand, may become great strategic leaders, but will rarely be more than competent as managers, as they prefer strategic and abstract thinking. In most organizations, this leads to a dilemma for brainiacs. In order to advance in their careers, brainiacs need to become managers. This forces them to stop doing work they enjoy and are good at, and instead do work they dislike and at which they rarely excel.

Even when the creator-manager dilemma isn’t a factor, there is a difference in the work style between brainiacs and brawniacs that causes a lot of frustration at work, and that is their differing approaches to time.

It’s just a short meeting
Recently, a fellow professor asked me to meet with him and the management team of a company to discuss human talent acquisition and retention. When I said no, my colleague objected, “But it’s just one hour.” Well, yes and no. For me, such a meeting would cost me much more than just one hour, even if the meeting miraculously ended on time. In fact, I would have lost a full day of work had I joined the meeting, because of the way that I, as a brainiac, use time.

The brain-brawn scheduling conflict
Brawniacs and brainiacs work on very different time schedules. This is because their tasks require different time commitments:

  • Brawniacs schedule their work in increments of 15 minutes to one hour. The tasks they work on are practical and operational, and can be started, and completed, in a short time, and that time is fairly predictable. Brawniacs tend to schedule as many tasks or meetings in a day as will fit into the available hours. At the end of the day, they feel satisfied if they’ve got many things done or have participated in successful meetings.
  • Brainiacs, however, must schedule their work in increments of at least half a day. Each day, they can focus on only one or two conceptual tasks requiring substantial abstract thought. These tasks —writing an article, coding software, creating a financial model of a company — can not be done quickly and cannot be done in a few minutes here and a few minutes there. They require at least a few hours, and frequently a whole day, of undisturbed, concentrated work. If all goes well, brainiacs may “get into flow” and become so deeply absorbed by the work that they forget about everything else. This, the most productive time for a brainiac, can never happen if their work gets interrupted.

If you’re a brawniac — a pragmatic doer and talented manager — be glad. The world runs on a brawniac’s schedule. In the U.S. it’s estimated that two out of three people are brawniacs. Even more importantly, most managers are brawniacs, and manage on their own schedule.

However, if you’re a brainiac — a conceptual thinker and creator — you will inevitably and frequently come in conflict with a brawniac’s schedule due to your preferred work style. Although you need long stretches of time to produce good work, you will be asked to schedule time as if you were a brawniac. That mid-morning meeting may cost the brawniacs only an hour, but you lose at least a half day’s work as a result.

How can a brainiac, or a brawniac manager of brainiacs, most effectively deal with this conflict? How can the brainiac produce their best work in a world running on the brawniac’s schedule? Here are three ideas for a brainiac to consider:

  1. Learn to say no. When you have conceptual work to do, refuse demands on your time that would destroy your productivity, just as I did to my fellow professor above. The first few times, you’ll have to explain why a half-hour task can destroy a full day of conceptual work. Eventually they will come to understand that your needs are different from theirs, and they should be able to see that allowing you your schedule results in your producing more, and better, work. Find a compromise that gives you the time you need based on your preferred work style, but which also lets you be seen as a committed member of the team.
  2. Schedule meetings at your least productive times. Whenever possible, I schedule meetings in the late afternoon. By then I have usually done the most vital parts of my conceptual work for the day and am happy to deal with people’s needs or operational details.
  3. Be a brawniac for one day each week. Make an agreement with yourself, your superior, and your team members that on one day each week you will work on a brawniac’s schedule. Schedule all your meetings, short operational tasks, service calls, etc., on this day, and do your best to be a brawniac for that day. This will free up the other days for you to work on your brainiac’s schedule, and enjoy four days of undisturbed conceptual work each week.

Finally, if you’re a brawniac manager of brainiacs, try to give your brainiacs as much advance notice as possible of meetings and the like so they can arrange their work schedules for the least disruption. When possible, schedule meetings late in the day. Your brainiacs will complain less about them, and regardless of their preferred work style, everyone can use the mornings to be productive. And as an added bonus, meetings late in the day are more focused and shorter, because everyone wants to go home.

Time Management for those Creative Types

How can you improve the time management skills of creative individuals to improve their effectiveness while preserving their precious creativity? Here are eight recommendations in line with the preferred work styles, thinking styles and life styles of a creative to improve your time management and make yourself and your boss happy, provided you commit to stick to each point.

1. Get organized. As a creative, you are likely to be less organized and neat at work compared to your more effectiveness-oriented co-workers and bosses. After all, organizational work is a dull routine. Yet, you’ll be surprised to learn that most creative geniuses were quite organized and disciplined. Why? They understood that in the long run, being well-organized makes their life simpler, helps them to find work-related items quicker, and thus gives them more time to do what they like most: working creatively.

As such, reframe your attitude towards organizational tasks and understand that counter-intuitively to what most people think, they are a means to more creative freedom. So get organized by following a robust filing system for documents and electronic files, sticking to naming conventions with regards to electronic documents, uploading files to a server and making back-ups, keeping your desk and tools clean, and so on.

2. Work smarter and harder. Being kissed by their creative muse every now and then, most creatives believe that being smart and hanging loose is good enough to produce great creative output. Again, counter-intuitively the opposite is true. Most creative geniuses such as Mozart or The Beatles worked very hard for years in order to reach the level of insight and craftsmanship into their domain that enabled them to produce world-class creative outputs that stands the test of time. So if you’re really serious about becoming a leading creative expert in your field, adopt a new personal motto: Work smarter and harder.

3. Identify your most creative time. As a creative individual, find out when during the day you have your most productive creative times. For example, my creative peak-times are in the morning ca. 2 hours after I wake up, and in the later afternoon. When are yours? Track your daily patterns over the course of one month, and you’ll know.

4. Preserve your creative time and space to get into your creative flow. Whenever possible, ring-fence your most precious creative hours and avoid being interrupted by e-mails, phone calls, colleagues, clients or surprise visitors. Why? Any interruption destroys your concentration on a creative work project at hand and gets you out of your creative flow.

Insofar, in your creative peak hours, turn-off your mobile phone. Put your office landline on voicemail or forward it to a friendly colleague. Close your e-mail software and social networking applications like Skype or MSN. Shut off the office noise by listening to some soft music. Hang your “Do not disturb — Creating magic”-sign outside of your office or cubicle entrance. Or even better, find yourself a creative space where you’ll be alone with yourself for a few hours. Then, get onto your creative work and into your creative flow.

5. Save the worst for last. Towards the end of your workday, attend to routine tasks and unavoidable to-do-lists (that as a true professional, you understand you have to get done, too). Your energy will be less drained if you get through these routine tasks at the end of your workday, as you know that you’ve already produced great creative outputs before. Similarly, reply to all your e-mails in one go at the end of each day, and then have a thought about what you want to do tomorrow before leaving the office.

6. Agree with your boss on weekly deliverables. After you’ve started to take charge of your life and committed to work both smarter and harder, have a conversation with your boss to make her understand how she can get the best out of you both with regards to your exceptional creativity and with your overall productivity. Describe how creatives work in leaps and bounds to get into “the zone”, and then need downtime and relaxation to re-energize themselves from an intense creative work phase. Explain that you don’t want like to be micro-managed and need a more flexible approach related to work times and routines, but that you understand that you need to maintain a certain organization orderliness. Most importantly, agree on certain core times when you will be available for the team and on a realistic number of creative outputs in at least great quality that you’ll produce each week.

7. Consciously plan your day by balance doing and being. To maximize your results and creative outputs, create each day wisely in advance either at the end of a workday for the next or at the beginning of a new day with a new planning tool: Your daily To-Do-Be-Play-List.

First, in the To-Be-part of the list, consciously choose what your want to create, achieve, experience and accomplish in your day ahead. Focus on up-to two intentional creative actions and quality outputs per day — and acknowledge yourself once you have completed one action. On your To-Do-part of your list, throughout the day, capture any tasks and phone-calls to make; that way, you can put your mind at ease that you won’t forget the task and can attend to it later, after you’ve completed your creative assignments for the day. Finally, on your To-Play-List, earmark 1-2 fun activities that you will enjoy as your reward after work.

8. Don’t force it. Sure, some creative project work is deadline driven, and you need to send out a deliverable by a given time regardless of your satisfaction with the end result. However, most projects rather need to adhere to an internal timeline rather than to an external deadline, which allows you to focus more on the level of creativity and the quality of the output.

As a creative, if you feel that you force a creative solution here, that the ideas don’t flow naturally anymore, that your solution is rather bad or “so-so but ok” then stop the action for today and try again to come up with something good, great or “wow” tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.

Research studies confirm that if creatives constantly work under time pressure like being on a treadmill, then the quality of their creative output sinks. So for any given work project, ask yourself —and if needed your boss— the following question: What is more important in the current situation here: sticking to an internal timeline or an external deadline, or creating better original value in an excellent quality?