Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Who are my best innovators?

For years now I've had clients ask:  who are my best innovators?  And for years I've basically responded with:  let's find out.  Because when it comes to identifying the most likely innovators in an organization, there's never an easy answer.  Some of the best and brightest, who are on the fast track, should be good innovators but don't want the associated risk of failure.  Some of the people who are marginalized for constantly questioning the status quo could be good innovators, but have little organizational or social capital.  How do we find the best innovators in an organization?

I've  typically responded that the best innovators will reveal themselves, based on their engagement, passion, curiosity and risk taking.  These are attributes or characteristics that are often evident in hindsight - that is, you discover whether or not a person has these characteristics at the end of a project, not at the beginning.  It's easy to claim passion or the ability to take risks, but once demonstrated it is easy to believe.  Let's look at some of the methods we've used previously.

The Innovator's DNA
Gregersen, Dyer and Christensen addressed this topic in The Innovator's DNA, which is a fine book and identifies five attributes that many innovators share:  associating, observing, experimenting, open questioning and networking.  The challenge is that some of these are observable traits, and some must be experienced.  You must work with people for months if not years to understand if they are good at associating - holding two diametrically opposed ideas in their minds at the same time and finding associations or relationships. It's especially difficult to understand if people are good at observing and assessing behavior.  Many executives apply their well-worn templates and mental models, rather than truly engaging and discovering through observation.  Even when they are observing, they are rejecting more information than they are taking on.  So, the Innovator's DNA is valuable, but not the end of the story.

 Those of you who follow this blog and our innovation consulting work know that we require all of our client teams to use the Foursight innovation assessment.  Foursight doesn't describe an individual's interest in innovation, as much as their specific capabilities within an innovation project.  Foursight indicates which of the four capabilities (Clarifying, Ideating, Developing, Implementing) an individual enjoys, so you can balance your innovation team effectively across these skills.  Other assessments exist, including the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Index, based on years of psychological research, and Creatrix.  These assessments are good for balancing the team and allocating roles and responsibilities, but don't necessarily identify who the best innovators are.

Identifying Innovators in the wild

Still, how do you identify the best innovators in your organization, and just as importantly, identify prospects and recruits who are likely to have more innovation skill and interest?  In my book Relentless Innovation, I discussed the need to make innovation part of your business as usual.  To do that you need people who are engaged innovators, what I'm going to call Relentless Innovators.  Maybe you see a trend here...

To grow and sustain your innovation capability, you need to identify the best innovators in your organization, and attract and recruit the people with the best innovation skill sets and passions from outside.  To do that we need to identify key attributes, characteristics and attitudes that set these folks apart from other, equally valuable employees.

To that end I am running an innovator's survey.  If you or someone you know is a constant innovator, I encourage you to take this survey.  I am trying to identify attributes that will help an organization quickly assess its internal team and find the best innovators, even if they don't seem like the most likely innovators.

The survey is composed of approximately 30 questions.  It takes between 5-7 minutes to complete and you can answer anonymously.  If you'd like to participate on a deeper level, feel free to leave your contact details and I'll contact you.  My goal is to complete the survey before the end of September and analyze and publish the findings in late fall 2013.  I'd appreciate your help in publicizing this survey and attracting people in every country, every industry, every role who considers themselves to be a consistent innovator.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:42 AM


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