Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Finding the right innovation role - Personality Poker

There's an old saw that suggests that not everyone is creative, but that everyone can innovate.  I'll leave it to other experts to debate whether or not "everyone" can innovate.  I'm not sure that's true.  Too many people are locked into a world view and perspective that simply won't allow for change or disruption.  If that segment of the population were willing to remove their blinders and free up their anchors, then yes, they could innovate.  But they probably won't, and like horses to water they may see the liquid and choose to ignore it.

Today's topic is on finding the right people to innovate and, once that's accomplished, getting them into the right roles.  And yes, this is a two step process.  Simply because people are interested in innovation, which is often difficult enough to find, doesn't mean they are good at all of the roles necessary to bring an idea to fruition.  Luckily, the first part of that equation, finding people who are interested in innovation, should be relatively easy.  Simply ask for volunteers.  This is what we try to do with our clients.  I'll make the claim to the executive sponsors that I'd rather have a few people who are really committed and excited about innovation, regardless of their status or title, than a bunch of senior executives who were assigned against their will or judgment to an innovation project.  Passion beats seniority when seniority isn't committed, and typically fresh eyes and perspectives are more valuable and less locked into the "way things are done around here".

But after we've found willing and eager participants, are they the "right" people and can they do the jobs necessary?  This is really about slotting people into the right roles, understanding their interests and strengths, and matching those to the needs of the project.  This is a bit harder to do, since many people aren't aware of their true strengths and weaknesses.  However, there are a number of tools to help you optimize your team.

I had the privilege of speaking at a conference with Stephen Shapiro, who is well known in innovation circles.  What might not be well known is that he has a new book/game/card deck called Personality Poker to help assess which roles people on your team may fill effectively, and help you discover gaps in the team as well.  Shapiro's work follows a number of psychological assessments and slots people into four "types":

  • Spades - who are analytical people
  • Clubs - who are planners
  • Diamonds - who are creative types
  • Hearts - who are the "people" people
Clearly, a well balanced team has representatives of each of these capabilities.  A team full of Diamonds (creatives) might generate lots of interesting ideas but without a seasoning of Spades and Clubs (analyticals and implementors) the ideas may never move forward.  Conversely, a team overloaded with analyticals may evaluate the problem for days without ever generating ideas.

What happens in many teams is a lack of balance across these skills.  After all, most organizations are well-staffed with Spades and Clubs. Those skills represent the work most firms do well.  Creative skills are often acquired from marketing firms and ad agencies, and the people who act as the glue (hearts) aren't often included on teams like this.  So while great people are assigned to the team, the necessary balance is missing and the team struggles.

Shapiro has taken this a step further by making the assessment a game that teams can play.  Individual players can find cards that they think represent themselves, and can receive cards from others based on how other people see their strengths or proclivities.  In this way the team can quickly sort out the capabilities and interests of the people who have indicated an interest in innovation and begin to balance the team accordingly.

Rather than a stuffy psychological assessment, the team participates in a team building exercise that's fun and has value to the individual and to the team.  The team leader can quickly identify the right people for important roles and address specific areas where there may be a lack of participation or simply few people in the organization with the particular skill.

Personality Poker is available now and I'd encourage any innovation team about to kick off a project to use this valuable tool as a team building exercise, and as a way to ensure the teams are balanced in terms of the four capabilities. 
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:06 AM


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