Can you recognize an innovator when you meet one? In his latest Mass High Tech column, BIF founder Saul Kaplan offers the 10 behavioral characteristics he uses to recognize an innovator. “If the game is to identify and connect the innovators, how do you identify them and ensure that they have the resources and freedom to innovate?” After years of honing his targeting and selection process, here are Saul’s first five traits:
The original article is very important to read. The 10 ways are a useful measure but it also says this:
I used to think we could convert everyone to be an innovator or create a culture in which everyone could innovate. I have changed my view after many years as a road-warrior consultant and innovation junkie. Proselytizing doesn’t work. People are either wired as innovators or they aren’t. The trick isn’t to create more innovators; it is to identify them, connect them together in purposeful ways, and give them the freedom to innovate. A leader’s job is to create an environment where innovators can thrive.
While there are times when almost anyone can innovate, but some people are just ‘wired’ to produce and spread new ideas. They just have to do that and an organization that can identify them and harness their ingenuity can adapt much more rapidly than a group that does not.
If their innovative talents are not harnesses, they often simply disrupt the ability of the majority of the company to actually do their jobs. Because, at its heart, innovation is disruptive.
Here is the list of 10 ways to identify innovators:
1) Innovators think there is a better way.
2) Innovators know that without passion there can be no innovation.
3) Innovators embrace change to a fault.
4) Innovators have a strong point of view but know that they are missing something.
5) Innovators know innovation is a team sport.
6) Innovators embrace constraints as opportunities.
7) Innovators celebrate their vulnerability.
8) Innovators openly share their ideas and passions, expecting to be challenged.
9) Innovators know that the best ideas are in the gray areas between silos.
10) Innovators know that a good story can change the world.
While these are traits are those found with innovators, they do not really help identify them when simply looking at a group of employees. Saul’s article provides a hint for separating the innovators from the rest of the group of employees.
It is not important or even possible to have everyone in an organization be innovative. In fact, most of the people in an organization should not be focused on innovation. Rather, they should be focused on delivering results within the current business model. These are the motivated and valued individuals committed to making quarterly numbers and annual business objectives. There is nothing wrong with that, and those individuals must be highly valued in any organization. They are people who get stuff done. They should not be made to feel like second-class citizens just because they are not innovators. Without them there would be no resources to invest in innovation.
In my discussion of the diffusion of innovation through a community, I mentioned the work of some researchers such as Everett Rogers. He splits an organization into 5 groups based on how rapidly each adopts innovations and change. These groups were innovators, early adopters, early middle, late middle and laggards. But I like to rename them.
The word ‘innovator’ has some very positive conotations. People don’t like being told they are not innovators and made to feel like ‘second-class citizens.’ I tend to view each group more by what they do and how the community views each group.
The majority of people, those in the middle, have several characteristics that are identifiable but the easiest to see is that they are Doers. As Saul mentions, ‘they get stuff done.’
Innovators, who usually make up 3-5% of a community, love new things and are always advocating change. They are necessary to any organization the deals in innovations but they are generally very disruptive to the doers.
Innovators keep coming up with things that changes a Doers’ workflow. Often they love new things simply because they are new, not necessarily useful. It is harder to get things done when someone keeps suggesting changes.
Doers do and innovators disrupt. This is partly the reason why the community rarely views innovators as people to listen to. Disruption, while often necessary, often makes a Doers’ life harder.
For innovations to move from the Disruptors to the Doers, there needs to be thought leaders, the early adopters, who act a really good mediators between the innovations of Disruptors and the work of Doers. In fact, the ability of innovative communities to function well, there have to be enough of these mediators. Without them, the Disruptors and Doers have a very dysfunctional relations.
These Mediators are also viewed as the thought leaders of the community, the ones whose opinions are listened to, often because they are so good at filtering disruptive innovations.
So, it can be somewhat easy to find the innovators (Disruptors) by simply asking the majority (Doers) who disrupts their work the most with ideas. Then using the 10 ways that Saul delineates will be very helpful in separating the truly innovative from those who are merely time-wasters.
These Disruptors, however, need to work through the Mediators in order for the community to more rapidly take up change. The Disruptors, by themselves, will generally not be listened to.
So, while finding the people who innovate is important, finding those who can mediate these changes is also important.
In my experience, many communities have enough disruptive innovators and a large majority of doers. What they lack are enough early adopting mediators to permit rapid adoption of change.
Later, I’ll discuss how to identify these mediators by both top-down and bottom-up approaches. These are the key people in the process. I’ll also have some suggestions for overcoming the lack of Mediators in many organizations.
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