The previous posts have introduced you to the 3 most common innovators that we think may be hidden in plain sight around your organization. Shannon was our “Sage” or a Subject Matter Expert (SME) - Deep expertise in an area, intense, probably likes to work alone, but well-respected by peers and colleagues who facilitate the potential of her deliberate nature, as well as her need for preparation with sufficient lead time and agendas. Sam is who we are calling our “Synthesizer.” Versed in strategic thinking that creates value from disparate pieces of intelligence, he offers a unique and challenging perspective that can motivate a team, even if his tactics can at times alienate individuals who oppose his view. Finally, Tim is our “Tinkerer” and as the name implies, is the “hands-on, dig in, and try” kind of guy. With practicality at a premium with him, you know his intentions are pure and he is set on finding the best solution for your problem.
You may be thinking, “Hey, I think you left one out. What about the Henry Ford’s, Steve Jobs, Marie Curie’s, and Elon Musk’s of the world?” These “big idea” people are the innovators we call the “Dreamers.” They are more outspoken, super open-minded, future-oriented, and invite in and thrive with change. They see the world less as to how it is and more as to how it could be. Sure, they can be a little controversial at times and can become domineering with the team tasked with executing their ideas, but their minds are unique and forward progress is their mission. The Dreamers think big, but you have to create a space for them to present ideas. This is how they get hidden. Rest assured, you have dreamers in your midst. They are creative, talk in limitless terms, and have an enthusiasm about uncertainty and sheer possibility when the outcome is unknown. They can easily find inspiration around them and when they are fully supported, they can deliver some incredible ideas.
Our dreamer, we are calling Dane, when fully supported and allowed to do his best work is excited about new challenges. He wants to be on the team, wants to provide input, and wants to be the one to come up with the big idea! His thinking is not bounded by the laws of physics and he cares little about how the world perceives his imagination. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care what people think at all. Given he feels responsible for coming up with the ideas, this can be where his ego is a little fragile. His corporate currency is ideas, so a team that goes with someone else’s idea or harshly criticizes his ideas will sting for him. He will take it personally, probably exhibit some less than adult-like behaviors, and feel devalued. The way he sees and processes the world, what he exposes himself to, the varied content he consumes, and his mental stamina are what make him an invaluable team member for innovation. This process is what helps produce his ideas and these ideas are his bread and butter. But, note the difference. He does not care about criticism to his widely imaginative process or being an early adopter of a new (maybe questionable) tech or even that he was the first in line to eat at that new Kenyan restaurant. He pushes his own limits and won’t apologize for that. But he cares, and cares deeply, about his ideas. He is the Dreamer and sees an ideal world made better because it is made up of his solutions to problems. When we think about the traits that make him unique, this is how he might measure up.
Now adding him to the team you’ve been introduced to in these posts, Dane is someone producing off the cuff ideas and everything is, “what if we tried to…”. You can see how Shannon might ground the idea with analytical reasoning and Tim might be thinking through the practical execution of it. Dane is outside the bounds of reality and again pushing his own limits, thereby pushing the team’s limits. The team he has around him is more grounded and thinking through how to best bring the idea to life, given their expertise. Sam’s wheels are turning as well, as he is thinking through all the different information on users, competitors, behavioral trends, herding cats, baseball statistics, AI, market reports, and any other useful tidbit or theory he came across. He is measuring the idea against his knowledge base and offering the team guidance based on his wide set of information. “I saw a headline where the airline industry is thinking about doing something similar, so let’s look at them more and monitor their progress as we keep thinking this through,” he says. Notice, there are no “no’s” and in a good ideation session, every idea is accepted and helps fuel the creation of more ideas. There is productive synergy on an intentional innovation team, made better by knowing how individuals prefer to think and create.
Do you know a Dane? Do you have and support the Dreamers around you? Do you know who they are? These are the most obvious innovators in your midst, but may become hidden or unknown due to cultural and environmental constraints. For instance, their job role may be a repetitive, monotonous process they do all day and your organizational structure may not have collection procedures or a channel for their ideas. Or mitigating risk is the cultural marching song, so ideas are never shared and these employees do not feel their input is valued or required. In this last scenario, these are the people that are most likely to leave and set up their own company to pursue their ideas, which can be a major lost opportunity for the employer.
Managing Dane’s ego at times will be a challenge, but it’s possible. Setting up intentional team interactions, shaping positive team behaviors, leading impactful ideation sessions, and producing consistent and valuable results are essential for these innovators. An environment that knows them and supports them is where they will flourish. Their individual expertise can be highly useful and valuable as unique contributions, but it is what happens when they come together on a team that makes them an innovation force to be reckoned with… like every team though, they need guidance. They need someone taking the time to know how they think, what motivates them, and what they need to get their best work. There are weaknesses and strengths in all the innovator types we’ve presented, so now we need to meet the one who is going to help balance the team and be that synergistic catalyst for collaboration. We will introduce our final type next, so stay tuned!