Are all innovators the same kind of innovator?
It seems unlikely that in a field like innovation that the recipe for success is always the same. It’s also pretty unhelpful and unhealthy to imagine all innovators are the same kinds of people. That would rather reinforce the idea that some people are ‘innovators’ and others are not. We can all be innovative but its going to manifest in different ways.
Innovation is not just about the wild ideas, it’s also about picking the best ones, finding ways to implement them, and knowing when not to. If everyone on the team is just spitting out crazy things and not crafting them into genuine solutions – that’s not innovation – it’s just noise.
I think it can be disheartening for more evidence-oriented, cautious, or careful personalities to assume innovation and creativity are a more lunatic endeavour. Likewise that same assumption on the part of swaggering and talkative personalities indulges their worst habits and fails to acknowledge the valuable role of analysis, evaluation, discipline and careful consideration.
A model for different styles and roles in Innovation
Try and answer the following questions to help identify your innovation style. These questions are inevitably big generalisations and only very indicative. Just because you have one preferred style of being innovative doesn’t mean you’re never the others.
Everyone can (and does) perform all of the styles. Preference in this context is like preferring to write with one hand rather than the other. You can choose to write with you less preferred hand but you’ll probably be a bit less fluent and find it more difficult to maintain, but you can still do it.
Most people find that they admire the qualities in the styles that they themselves struggle with. Thinking about your style relative to other people is a good way to reflect on your own preferences and defaults through comparison.
Consider the following preferences:
Firstly, if the following statements largely or usually apply to you then you’re likely to have what is known as a Sensing preference:
- I remember things as a series of specific snapshots or sensory experiences which I can often remember in detail.
- I solve problems by working through evidence until I understand the problem.
- I trust experience first and trust intuition or novel ideas less.
Or… if the following statements largely or usually apply to you then you’re likely to have what is known as an Intuiting preference instead:
- I remember things often in quite vague ways – but I can usually ‘read between the lines’ to distil a pattern or underlying meaning.
- I solve problems by leaping between ideas and possibilities.
- Sometimes I think so much about new possibilities that I never look at how to make them a reality.
Secondly, if the following statements largely or usually apply to you then you’re likely to have what is known as a Judging preference:
- I typically enjoy reaching closure on a project and deciding things.
- I tend to be quite scheduled and organised and enjoy the process of planning and decision-making.
- I like to make decisions as soon as it is reasonable to do so and enjoy reaching my destination.
Or… if the following statements largely or usually apply to you then you’re likely to have what is known as a Perceiving preference:
- I typically enjoy keeping my options open and discovering new surprises.
- I tend to be quite spontaneous and adaptable, enjoying the journey, otherwise I might miss things.
- I like to keep options open so long as it is reasonable to do so.
Four Innovative Preferences
After considering the options above you should have a two-element preference:
Intuiting & Perceiving – People with these preferences might be positively regarded as Creative Mavericks or less-positively as Scatterbrains – their preferences for intuitive ideas and desire to stay agile rather than decide on an idea too soon means they tend to be good at generating lots of diverse ideas but can struggle to actually act on them.
Intuiting & Judging – People with these preferences might be positively regarded as Visionary Leaders or less-positively as Fixated Bores – their preference for thinking in big leaps and trying to resolve the situation means they’re good at identifying grand solutions but they may rush to decide or fail to take others with them who are thinking more incrementally or seeking more evidence.
Sensing & Perceiving – People with these preferences might be positively regarded as Innovative Trouble-Shooters or less-positively as Mad Inventors – their detail focus is helpful for solving specific problems and their desire to explore rather than rushing to decide means they’re good at incremental invention. They can however miss the big picture and fail to focus on what actually needs doing now.
Sensing & Judging – People with these preferences might be positively regarded as Careful Conservators or less-positively as Nit-pickers – their focus on evidence, detail, and getting things resolved means they are good at preventing errors, staying on brief, and being efficient with resources. Whilst they can however feel like they’re not helping the generation of ideas their discipline is critical to the creative process.
You should both contemplate your own preferences and the value that the other roles play in any creative or innovative process.
There is also the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI) which suggests a dichotomy between ‘adaption’-oriented individuals who are more incremental in their approach to developing new ideas, trusting to experience and hard evidence, and ‘innovation’-oriented individuals who are more radical in their approach, making more intuitive leaps. Both approaches are equally valid and useful but ‘Innovation’ has come to be the more attractive style and Kirton’s Adaptors may feel unloved and unfashionable.
Fundamentally, the process of innovating successfully is a bit like supplying power to a car; you need an accelerator and a brake to manage your speed, and gears to provide efficiency. Different personalities provide those functions.
However you innovate, what’s important is that you do. Every style has its usefulness and every team should try to get a mix of approaches. A team wholly consisting of Scatterbrains is no more innovative than a team of only Nit-pickers (it’s probably just a lot noisier and feels a bit more fun…)