Leading Blog


What Kind of Innovator Are You?

Innovation Code


N EVERYTHING WE DO, we bring with it our personal view of the world. That is both our biggest asset and contribution and our biggest obstacle. We can easily get caught up in trying to make things be the way we think they should be from our perspective. It’s what leads to most of our issues.

When it comes to innovation, it is no different. Jeff DeGraff writes in The Innovation Code, “Your dominant worldview is your biggest strength—the quality that makes you stand out from other people.” He adds, “On the other hand, your dominant worldview is holding you back. Your defining quality is also your greatest weakness. The problem is that our dominant worldviews overpower all other points of view.” And it distorts reality as we miss the bigger picture.

So the place we want to come to is knowing what gift or perspective we bring to the table and then learn to combine it with the gifts of others to create a positive tension that promotes sustainable and scalable growth.

First, we need to get to know ourselves. DeGraff describes four basic worldviews or approaches to innovation: the Artist, the Engineer, the Athlete, and the Sage.

The Artist
The Artist loves radical innovation. “Their core competency is imagination. They thrive in situations riddled with uncertainty and doubt—contexts that peers might avoid—because they are great experimenters. They want organic growth—things not acquired but built. These people are revolutionaries. They are dreamers—expressive, clever, optimistic, charismatic, and quick on their feet. This is the high-risk, high-reward innovation approach.”

The Engineer
The Engineer constantly improves everything. They seek efficiency and quality and depend on processes. “They are systematic, disciplined team members. They embrace reliability as they work to eliminate deviance. They love to take preexisting ideas and products and make them into something bigger—something reproducible, global, universal. What they seek is efficiency. They strive for incremental innovations. They want quality—foolproof systems that can make a lot out of something already proven to be great. This is a slow-moving, low-risk kind of growth.”

The Athlete
The Athlete competes to develop the best innovation. “Athletes are forceful leaders who are driven by profit and speed. They are masters at image—enhancement and deal-making. They thrive in high-pressure environments with quantifiable results. What they seek is power. They reach it by looking at everything that comes their way as a challenge, an opportunity to do something bigger and better than anyone who’s done it before. They win the immediate round but fail to see the long game. Too eager for the instant victory, they don’t have the patience to build the kind of community and culture that sustain durable growth. For this reason, every Athlete needs a Sage. The killer instinct of an Athlete and the social intelligence of a Sage is a dynamite combination.”

The Sage
The Sage innovates through collaboration. “Sages are facilitators that put everyone they meet at ease. They attract people and bring them together, creating a family atmosphere and collaborative spirit. Their charisma lies in their reserve, their willingness to let people speak. Sages thrive on building a culture—defining the lager character and vision of the people they unite. They are the fundamental source of knowledge for the groups and teams they lead. They are the people who first develop the crucial competencies and capabilities that endure for years or even lifetimes.”

DeGraff provides each type with more in depth characteristics and examples. He lays out the strengths and weaknesses of each and what do about it, including how to work with each of the other types.

What kind of innovator are you? DeGraff has created an online assessment.

Here’s the thing. When you bring these four types together it can get messy. But it can be constructive. “The key,” says DeGraff, “is not to strike a balance but to know when you need more or less of each approach.” If we know the strengths and weaknesses of our type, then we can know what types we need to surround ourselves with to complete the picture and to find an approach that will work. Knowing the kinds of innovators you need to bring to a project is all about knowing all of those things you can’t do (well) yourself.

Not surprisingly, different stages of organizational growth require more of one type over another. “At their onset, groups need more Artists and Athletes. Artists will give a young company a creative edge, while Athletes come up with a playbook. As it starts to grow, the organization has to get the right people and community involved and develop the best customer relationships. This is when the company needs Sages. Finally, when the organization gets really big, it needs structure, processes, and hierarchy—the gifts of Engineers.” When it matures, the organization needs to reinvent itself. “Instead of maintaining the same ratio of different kinds of thinkers, the organization needs to incorporate more Artists or Athletes or Sages or Engineers, whichever form will add more variance to the current situation.”

Organizational Growth Cycle

“When you combine the radical, visionary thinking of the Artist and the methodical, practical thinking of the Engineer, you get innovation that’s both revolutionary and manageable, highly ambitious but without high risk. When you combine the cutthroat, results-oriented attitude of the Athlete with the conscientious, values-oriented attitude of the Sage, you get innovation that’s both a good investment and good for the world.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:18 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Creativity & Innovation



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