So far, we have met Sam and Shannon, who we believe to be a couple of the hidden innovators that exist in organizations. Sam is an amazing storyteller who can understand and synthesize a variety of information in a compelling way, while Shannon’s deep subject matter expertise and passion for problem solving that can showcase her skills make her ideal for innovative thinking. Now, let’s meet the next potential hidden innovator and this one - he likes getting his hands dirty.

Do you know Tim?

Tim strolls in on time every morning in a pleasant disposition, grabs coffee from the kitchen, and gets to work. At some point, he leans out of his cube and says to a colleague, “Remember that tracking idea we had last week around morale? Well, I built a small two-button prototype this weekend with some circuit boards I had laying around. We can look at it later, if you want.” This type of action-oriented, hands-on, problem solving occurs a lot with Tim. You see this both professionally and in his hobbies, like rebuilding old cars, machining, and repurposing something new from the odds and ends he has around. This is how he contributes - simply by doing. At work, he hears client pain points or team needs and he is solutioning in his head. Not just ideas or hypothetical plans, but actual prototypes with either stuff he has laying around or code he writes in his spare time. He resolves his curiosity by building something and testing it, then iterating on it if he likes it or moving on, when he doesn’t. While Tim can do well with just the ideation phase of projects, he is not convinced a solution is viable until it is built. This can make him appear to be a contrarian or even pessimistic in meetings amidst some of his more optimistic counterparts. Even with his even keel nature, Tim is the constant “devil’s advocate” and will challenge assumptions by showing you the ways something won’t work. And this isn’t just some tactic by him to champion a preferred solution. This is just Tim. Proof is tangible. He is architecting the solution in his head and wants to fail fast to eliminate the junk from the real, viable options. Change is pretty constant in his world and he has the courage to try something when others are still deliberating. Regardless, he stays curious, is a team player, sees failure as an opportunity to iterate, and has a realistic view of the world. Even if he doesn’t tell you he is in fact working on a solution, and you’ll know eventually, because he can’t wait to show you what he’s done.

There is an action-oriented bias in the three hidden innovators we have met so far, but this is most notably true for Tim. His innovation style is one where he is doing, creating, trying, failing, iterating, and innovating on designed solutions. He is generally easy to work with, except for his propensity for a “firing squad” style of questioning when ideation sessions are happening. So, those easily offended or unsure may not like him that much at that stage. However, with the right ground rules and a strong team lead, this can be minimized and his detailed inquisition can be fertile ground for productive sessions. For all these reasons, we are calling Tim our “Tinkerer” in this series. When we think about the traits that make him unique, this is how he might measure up.

Tim

When you think about Tim in relation to the other two, he more than likely does not require the depth of knowledge from Shannon for every project, but could potentially limit his internal solution set with her help. Tim probably only needs the input on a project from Sam to get started on some initial problem solving. Either way, he will grab a beer after work with both of them and they can all talk about the outdoors and any upcoming travel.

Now that you’ve met Tim, can you recognize him on your team? How many people do you know approach problems like Tim? What are their strengths and weaknesses on your team?

If you’ve been hanging in there with us so far, we hope you are beginning to understand how these unique innovation styles can push ideas and actions further down the path than each person acting individually. They offer a different perspective that can be invaluable to the innovation process. Seeking them out and developing the right combination of these hidden innovators can significantly impact your innovation process. But we are not done yet. There is still one more we want to discuss. While this one may be the most well-known by organizations, they still can remain hidden if the culture or process inhibits their ability to contribute. Let’s keep moving and meet Dane next.