We use archetypes in many walks of life: to provide context, assign a character or personality or define a brand.
Archetype [ar ki taip] noun
- original pattern from which copies are made;
- a perfect specimen or example, after which others are copied;
- a model, type or prototype.
When talking about innovation we often use language that suggests there is one single innovation archetype. In many people’s minds that person, if pressed, would take the form of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or similar. Eric Schmidt of Google said “the characteristic of great innovators…is they see a space that others do not. They don’t just listen to what people tell them; they actually invent something new, something that you didn’t know you needed, but the moment you see it, you say, ‘I must have it.” Innovators have the ability to re-imagine things that already are.
Are there many innovation archetypes?
Theory and research in personality psychology and creativity (typically seen as a key attribute of the innovator) share an essential commonality; emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual. If we accept this then we must challenge the idea of there being an innovation type. In the work we do at Wazoku with global organisations on innovation and crowdsourcing, we have first-hand experience of innovation when managed at scale and across a very diverse community of innovators. Over time my thinking on the topic of an innovation archetype vs. a range of innovation archetypes has evolved and has led me to explore the topic further. It is my opinion that we are all innovators and there are a number of archetypal characteristics that constitute an individual’s innovation archetypal make-up.
Research shows that some people are disproportionately more likely to come up with novel and useful ideas, and that – irrespective of their field of expertise, job title and occupational background – these creative individuals tend to display a recurrent set of psychological characteristics and behaviours.
We have identified 14 contributing archetypes, there are likely many more, and we expect this set to evolve. Our personal innovation DNA is a mix of these archetypes, some of us will be more dominant in one area over others, whereas others may be more generalist across a range of innovation types.
What is your innovation archetype?
Ideators love ideas (obviously!) and will not often be shy about sharing them. Ideators need structure for their ideas and a suitable forum for them to be aired or will quickly become frustrated.
Ideators must be encouraged and nurtured. Ideas are not a volume game, we can all have ideas. True ideators typically demonstrate empathy and understanding of the wider strategy and context into which they bring their ideas.
We all need Enablers within our innovation ecosystem, but they can be hard to find. Enablers may be those who teach methods and processes of innovation and equip others with the tools to create new ideas. Managers should strive to encourage this archetype and provide the right platform for them to enable others.
Innovation is part art, part science. We rely on the Challenger within us or within our ecosystem to be the voice of balance or reason. Challengers are not blockers of innovation, but they are a necessary counter-balance.
We must differentiate between risk aversion and being willing to question the crowd. The challenger wants to enable innovation, but also wants to ensure it is optimised, targeted and is the best idea, approach or solution for the pain point, problem or opportunity.
The Implementer is the innovation do-er. A natural practitioner of innovation, the innovation implementer enjoys taking ideas beyond conception and thrives on making them a reality.
Comfortable with failure and some level of chaos, the implementer is not a project manager, but will be accountable to move ideas forward and typically likes to challenge and change the status quo.
Ideas in a vacuum or in isolation are worthless. Innovation relies on collaboration and sharing. Collaborators are those people who love to get involved and champion and improve the ideas of others. They are team members, generalists or specialists, who get involved for some or all of the innovation process and help to build and develop ideas with others.
Drawing on creative skills and design thinking methods innovation Designers are skilled at having one foot in the present and one in the future.
The innovation designer has the customer and the problem in mind, but is also an iterator. Designers help to bring the innovation to life, provide context and form and seek to ensure that the innovation is relevant, useful and useable.
The User. The customer. Innovation must have the user/customer in mind and the innovation must have an application and be adopted.
Users are early adopter; they accept imperfection and defects, believe in agile and iterative approaches and are always looking for the next disruptive tool, platform or service.
Researchers bring depth and substance to the innovation process. They scope, develop and improve the new models being created, connecting them to latest market developments and insights, ensuring new models build on global best practice, always putting the customer at the heart of the process.
Researchers will often be your subject matter experts (SMEs) or will have the wider network to engage relevant SMEs. Researchers are trend spotters, see patterns and may see adjacent applications for ideas beyond the original intention.
Iterators love to tinker and are never happy with the current version or application of an idea or innovation. They like to tweak, test, poke, break and rebuild. James Dyson created more than 5,000 failed prototypes of his wildly successful vacuum cleaner. We need iterators to provide fluidity and also allow for serendipity. Many ideas would have been condemned to the bin were it not for iterators.
Supporters are your innovation champions. They are mavens who seek out potential new ideas; they see things, benefits and opportunities others don’t.
Supporters are often entrepreneurial and realise the benefits of adaptation and change. They lead by example, are good mentors and are well connected. Supporters are comfortable backing new ventures on instinct, are typically creative and prefer autonomy.
Adaptors are typically the incremental innovators. They are usually more focused on enhancement, efficiency and generally seeking to make things better, but within the existing processes and structures of the organisation. They are seen as conforming, safe and dependable and are concerned with resolving problems rather than finding them.
When collaborating with other innovation archetypes, the adaptor supplies stability, order and continuity to the innovation process and can provide a safe base for the innovator’s riskier operations.
Entrepreneurs are disrupters who do not ask for permission, do not wait for things to be broken before trying to fix them, who like to start new things and believe passionately in the things that they undertake. Entrepreneurs can possess a healthy arrogance (or is it confidence) and will fight hard for the things they really believe in, but also quickly move on from those they do not.
Entrepreneurs typically see problems before others and seek to solve them by drawing on their own experiences. They often get innovative ideas by directly observing how people interact with products and services; they have a deep-rooted belief they can improve things in some way.
Last, but certainly not least the innovation Lurker. We are all lurkers – I put this out there with complete confidence. We all read blogs, social media, newspapers without contributing, sharing or commenting. Lurkers play a critical role in the innovation process and ecosystem, but this is highly intangible and impossible to measure.
Lurkers are often thoughtful, intelligent, contemplative and curious. By reading, watching, and evaluating content, lurkers develop an invaluable perspective. By keeping in touch with potential changes, or the latest challenges, lurkers become more aware, and in turn more receptive to change and the potential for improvement in the future.
In the corporate domain, we need a true mix of these archetypes, but we also need to recognize we are all a mix of these archetypes. At Wazoku we are developing a deeper understanding of how these archetypes blend at both an individual and team level. Watch this space for more on this topic. Until then have a think and let us know, what is your innovation archetype? And no pretending….. we are all part lurker!!