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The four innovation personality types

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I’ve written a few times around the various hurdles to innovation within an organization, and how there is a need for organizations to display a level of ambidexterity that so many struggle with.  This need requires a dual focus upon both the status quo and the future.  It requires the organization to be great at delivering the things that earn them cash here and now, whilst also planning for the obsolescence of that cash cow.

It’s a juggling act that very few organizations manage, and has led to such memes as the innovators dilemma becoming part of the mainstream consciousness.  I thought it might be interesting therefore to explore some of the people you so often get in an organization, and how these people respond to the thought of change.

Type 1 – In the olden days

The first type that we’ll look at can best be paraphrased as the Luddites.  They look fondly upon a time in the past when things were better, and would like very much to return to that golden time as soon as possible.  It’s important to understand the distinction here, because this group aren’t looking to maintain the status quo.  Instead, they wish to go back in time, and will attempt to do so by unmaking changes that they believe have made things worse.  This kind of person can often exist within hierarchical organizations.

Type 2 – The stick in the muds

Whereas the first type hark back to a bygone age, the stick in the muds are very happy with how things are (thank you very much).  When this group of people dominate, it can often hinder attempts by the organization both to sense changes in the marketplace, and to respond to those changes.  It’s much better to ignore crises and attempt instead to muddle through.  Despite the image of inactivity however, one should not believe that this group are not busy.  Their activity however is involved in obstructing change.  They will rely heavily on facts, and will demand the endless collation of facts before any change is actioned.  This will manifest itself in an endless stream of committees and meetings, whose actual output is rather difficult to determine.

Type 3 – Responsive followers

The third type of person is arguably the most common.  This type are open to the need for change and want to do as well as they possibly can.  This desire manifests itself in the need to optimize performance and are heavy consumers of the latest trends and thinking.  This type of person is a big fan of experimentation and promote inventiveness rather than conformity, with the end goal being strong market growth.  Therefore, they try and predict the future, and plan accordingly, with an emphasis on the prediction part more than the preparation part.

Type 4 – Proactive leaders

The final group are slightly different to the preceding group in that they look to lead the intellectual agenda.  They don’t buy into the belief that the future is something that simply happens and must be responded to, and prefer instead to believe that they themselves can control the future.  Therefore, they strive to design an optimal future, and invent ways that this future can manifest itself.

To use a surfing analogy, the type 1′s try to swim against the tide.  The type 2′s by contrast, merely try and hold their position.  The type 3′s will instead try and surf the wave, whereas the type 4 will try and control the wave.

It’s crucial to understand the kind of personalities, and indeed the kind of culture that pervades your own organization.  Too often, research and practice has shown innovators to be distinctly unpopular within organizations because of the change and disruption they advocate.  Understanding which of these four personality types exist within your own organization can better help you plan accordingly how it might respond to the ‘threat’ of innovation.

Which type best defines you and your organization?

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