What is your innovation style?

What is your innovation style?

While facilitating over a hundred innovation projects over nearly a decade, I noticed that different people have very distinct innovation styles. While working out Thinkergy’s innovation people profiling method TIPS, I developed a scheme to capture and systematize these personal innovation styles of different people. Thereby, I blended central aspects of a well-known innovation theory with my practical experiences and personal observations in real-life innovation projects. In today’s column, let me share with you how understanding these two determinants can help you to identify your own innovation style.

Introducing TIPS

The acronym TIPS derives from four basic dimensions that energize people’s actions: T as in theories, testimony and the truth; I as in ideas, imagination and innovation; P as in people, play and party; and S as is system, structure and status quo. These four dimensions represent the corners of a 2×2-matrix that forms the fundament of the TIPS profiling method.

In addition, TIPS also keeps track of a person’s preferred thinking style, work style, interaction style and lifestyle. These four personal styles are laid on top of the four basic dimensions to form the TIPS profiling map. With a questionnaire, we determine a person’s individual position within this map and identify which of all in 11 innovator profiles describes their personal styles and basic energies best.

But how can we help you find your innovator style with the help of the TIPS personality test? To answer this question, let’s first take a look at the two factors that collectively define your personal style to innovate.

The people side of innovation

The first factor of your personal innovation style is grounded in practice, and relates to what we may call “the people side of innovation”. While observing participants in an innovation project, I noticed that different people have a preferred way of working and —in particular— of generating ideas: Some people clearly prefer to brainstorm for ideas in a team, while others would rather ideate alone. Last but not least, there also seem to be some people who at times enjoy “going solo”, but at other times crave for the cross-fertilization of other team members.

Question: How about you — would you rather generate ideas alone or brainstorm together with others in a team? Or are you one of those people who can comfortably shift between going solo and working with your team members?

Kirton’s adaption-innovation theory

The second factor of a person’s innovation style is grounded in theory. In his well-known adaption-innovation theory, Michael Kirton suggests that people are either adaptors or innovators:

  • Adaptors are people who like to adapt ideas. They are interested in resolving problems in tried and tested ways. Adaptors “innovate” by improving something that already exists in order to make it slightly better and more efficient. In result, they incrementally improve or evolve the status quo.
  • On the other hand, innovators prefer to shoot for ideas that are really novel, original and meaningful. They spot problems and wider unmet needs that they perceive as opportunities to create new solutions that are different and useful. Thereby, innovators enjoy pushing for distinct evolutionary innovations or even game-changing revolutionary innovations that radically challenge and change the status quo.

While I embrace Kirton’s theory in most parts, I disagree with its binary view of people. Why? Can you imagine that there are people who at times like to adapt ideas and at other times enjoy pushing for bold new ideas? Well, according to my observations, these people do exist — and we capture them in a third classification that we call adaptor-innovators.

Question: What about you? Do you prefer to improve on existing solutions (adaptor) or prefer to come up with unique, valuable and truly novel ideas (innovator)? Or do you see yourself as an adaptor-innovator who feels home both at fixing and improving things that already exist and at creating the truly new?

Finding your innovation style

Now let’s combine the two determinants (with their three classifications each) into a 3×3 matrix to arrive at 9 distinct innovation styles. In order to identify your personal innovation style, simply combine your answers to my two earlier questions, and locate your resulting innovation style (and related TIPS type) below:

TIPS Innovation Styles-Profile Matrix

  • Solo Adaptors enjoy working alone in their office on incrementally improving documents that already exists. Think of a bureaucrat in a government agency formulating a policy or updating a handbook or manual. The corresponding TIPS profile is the Technocrat.
  • Solo-Team Adaptors relish fine-tuning and optimizing the multitude of cogwheels that form a well-oiled organizational system. Thereby, they produce many ideas for incremental improvements both alone and together with others in the team. These people who often make it to the corner offices of mature, asset-driven corporations identify as Systematizer within TIPS.
  • Team Adaptors are called Organizers within the TIPS profile typology and enjoy resolving operational problems (e.g., in manufacturing or in a service organization) by working together with others in a team.
  • Solo Innovators relish working out abstract concepts and new solutions alone in a coffee shop or quiet corner of their office. These people that often work in management consulting are labeled Conceptualizers.
  • Solo-Team Innovators take great pleasure in shooting for really bold or even radical ideas by alternating between working and ideating alone and bouncing ideas off other team members. Such radical change-agents are called Ideators in TIPS (and yes, I am one of them).
  • Team Innovators are often found in advertising, marketing and public relation roles and are called Promoters in TIPS. They love to brainstorm for bold new slogans and promotional campaigns together with other team members.
  • Imagine a career researcher or scientist sitting in an ivory tower resolving some smaller abstract problems or breeding over a bolder intellectual challenge and you get a feeling for the style of a Solo Adaptor-Innovator. Within the TIPS profiling universe, we call these abstract logical thinkers Theorists.
  • Team Adaptor-Innovators really don’t care if they work on resolving an operational issue or brainstorm for a bold new service idea as long as they can do it together with others in a team. Partner is how we call this most social of the 11 TIPS profiles.
  • Last but not least, Solo-Team Adaptor-Innovators are the most flexible types of all. Depending on the situational context, they feel at ease working alone or together with other team members on a challenge, and they enjoy both improving on an already existing solution and creating something really new. And fortunately, three TIPS Profiles exhibit this highly flexible innovation style: Experimenters, Coaches and All-Rounders.

If you have identified your personal innovation style as suggested before, you get a hint as to what your TIPS Innovator Profile is likely to be. If you want to find out more and ascertain your real profile, then check out for our TIPS innovation profiling test that will be online in a few weeks from now. Would you like us to inform you once our TIPS online personality test will be up and running? Please let us know and share your contact details with us, so that we can drop you a note once TIPS will be online.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2014. 
This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on October 9 2014.