Innovation does not reside in one department or with one person. Innovation is a team sport with different roles and responsibilities. Any innovation program that doesn’t start by helping every individual in the organisation to understand their role will almost inevitably fall short of expectations.
Too many people think that innovators are the Einstein-haired crazy thinkers who come up with genius ideas, while the rest can’t come up with anything worthwhile. Whilst the creative geniuses are certainly important to innovation, that’s not actually how innovation works.
There are many different roles people can play. We refer to the process of ensuring everyone understands their role as: Invitational Innovation.
Indeed there are up to ten roles which can be played in building a culture of innovation Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman identify the following different styles of innovative thinking. When building a culture of innovation it’s important to help people understand the different roles they can play:
1. Anthropologists: Anthropological researchers immerse themselves in alien cultures and observe carefully. This sort of intense observation is the single greatest source of innovation you can bring to your organisation. Zen Buddhism calls this “the beginners’ mind”.
2. Experimenters: Experimenters are persistent about solving problems. They try lots of prototypes, make drawings, and build and test models. Then, they take what they learn and start all over again.
3. Cross-Pollinators: Cross-pollinators bring together disparate things.
4. Hurdlers: Hurdlers specialise in overcoming obstacles. You can’t defeat them by blocking the direct path to their goal – they’ll jump over it or work around it. Hurdlers treat every obstacle as an opportunity.
5. Collaborators: Collaborators not only work well with others, they also generate connections among other people. They encourage teams from different disciplines to work together and work among parties to keep everyone on the same page.
6. Directors: Directors are planners and organisers.
7. Experience Architects: Experience architects present ideas by appealing to the senses. They're interested in aesthetic pleasure as well as understanding.
8. Set Designers: Set designers focus on making physical space both functional and pleasing.
9. Caregivers: Caregivers have the ability to put people at ease, but their main concern is providing good service.
10. Storytellers: Unlike facts, stories forge emotional connections between the teller and the audience. Storytellers can take the ordinary and reshape it into something special, creating inspirational myths and allegories.
Companies that do innovation well ensure that everyone feels part of the process, and that everyone understands their role – including the person who always says, ‘but this will never work,’ because, sometimes, they are right.
We are always surprised that so few companies invest systematically in improving the innovation skills of their employees across all the innovation roles. To build a culture of innovation successful innovators actively encourage and provide all their people with the key skills and mindsets necessary to achieve the organisation’s innovation ambitions.