In the previous post of this series, you were introduced to the traits we typically see in those with the solid potential for innovation. We introduced you to the core traits we think all innovators need, as well as the ones we think begin to differentiate unique innovator types. Check here if you want to review those core traits again. Otherwise, let’s jump in on the first innovator type. In our experience, this is one that we frequently meet first in organizations, so it seemed like a good place to start.

Do you know Sam?

When you first meet Sam, he seems pleasant, friendly, and maybe even a little socially awkward in a shy, but goofy kind of way. You certainly don’t meet him and think he is a C-suite level executive, given the coffee stains on his desk, ripped jeans, or weekly ritual of athletic jerseys. But when you get the chance to see him work, you realize something special happens. He is intensely curious, sees what is not obvious, and puts bits of information together to craft a story you didn't know you needed to hear. His stories are the stuff motivation is made of. He has an eye for good design and tells his stories in beautiful and vivid visualizations. He takes you down paths that were not evident, even when you both started from the same information, because he will immerse himself in whatever he is working on, even if that means hanging with a motorcycle club to better understand the camaraderie of bike owners. But he does this in isolation, most days chasing his rabbits down holes with his headphones on, devoid of human interaction and can be frustrated when he is bothered or the work simply doesn’t interest him. He can work on teams and does often lead them, but for the prep work required to inform those teams, he likes the solo gig. He can become defensive, maybe even belligerent, at the thought of being wrong, but this is because he doesn’t like to fail. This fear can sometimes overpower his high emotional intelligence and make it seem like his passion for the work is diminished. Sam is a guy that prefers to know what to do, but does not want to be told how to do it. He needs that freedom of thought and execution and also needs interesting work to be fully engaged and have his innovation potential firing on all cylinders. When he isn’t banging on his piano, he is neck-deep in exploring a new topic and sifting through mounds of content to find the patterns, see the trends, and understand the world around him. Because of all this, Sam is our first potential hidden innovator.

From this, you can see Sam exhibits some core innovator traits. He is curious and creative, as well as self-directed and doesn’t shy away from trying to solve difficult problems. He immerses himself in the work to avoid being wrong, but this also showcases his open-mindedness and willingness to experience new things. Again, these are traits we would expect to see in an innovator. What makes Sam a unique innovator comes in the second set of traits we look for in people. His level of passion for the work and how he can interact well with teams, as both a member of it and the emotional intelligence it takes to convey and lead them is critical. It takes an intense amount of attention and focus to identify patterns, find trends, and see what isn’t obvious, so it is no surprise that he prefers to work alone when he is learning and pushing his own cognitive limits. For all these reasons, we are coining Sam our “Synthesizer” in this series. When we think about the traits that make him unique, this is how he might measure up.


Do you know a Sam? Have you had experience with someone like him? What else have you seen with this type of person? Let us know in the comments below. We are interested in your thoughts and are collecting them for an entire retrospective at the end of this series.

If you are still interested in the innovators hiding around you and want to move on, let’s meet the next one. Sam is someone who could benefit from our next potential hidden innovator, especially when he is in his research and discovery mode and intentionally exposing himself to subject matter that may be new to him. It’s time to meet Shannon.