Innovation Boost

Fast Company recently published a new article on Leadership, The 4 Job Types That Make Innovation Happen. The article explores the notion that companies are generally composed with four types of workers: Thinkers, Builders, Improvers, and Producers. These four types of workers are similar to our concept of cognitive diversity and how incorporating it into your company’s culture can boost innovation.

The concept comes from business guru Lou Adler and he believes that these each type of worker plays a distinct role in the overall productivity and innovation potential of the business. More importantly, each type must be embraced in order to see those benefits. My thoughts in taking this concept to the next level though is not simply to bring all of these employees to the table (which is critical) but also to realize who on your team brings each perspective and how they do it.

It really does go to the way your workforce is wired.

Thinkers tend to be the “visionaries, strategists, and creators of the world.” Thinkers take on the responsibility to ascertain new business ideas, unveil new perspectives and bring to light new products. They can be seen as the intuitive force behind the product. Ideas need execution, and in this case, that means having a Builder. The Builder is the craftsman for creating businesses, closing deals, and developing processes. Detail-orientation is synonymous with the identity of the Builder. The product has to be upgraded and put through challenging processes to improve it though. The Improvers are often “vigilant managers, monitoring and improving the processes in their purview.” Now, with a new system created and perfected has to go into production. The Producer is an individual who can oversee the idea from possibility to optimization. They are implementing and executing.

My thought immediately went to the way our brains are wired. We have all these tendencies but certain elements no doubt ring more clearly for each and every one of us. Our research has characterized thinking in a four-quadrant model based on Analysis, Structure, Social/Relational, and Concepting. These tie in amazingly well to Adler’s “Four Workers.”

Having all thinking preferences represented on your team and grounding it in this new way of innovative thinking can bring new potential to the workplace. Here’s how I see our models overlapping (with two large caveats— first, each person exhibits ALL elements of thinking; second, thinking AND behaviors make up who a person is):

  • Thinkers are quite similar to our Conceptual thinkers. Emergenetics catalogs Conceptual thinking to be naturally inclined to be visionary and imaginative leaders. These leaders enjoy being intuitive and having insightful leaders. Like the Thinkers of this article, Conceptual brains encourage new techniques for innovation. Ideas aren’t static and these people enjoy learning through experimentation. They see how this can contribute to the successes of the “small’ or “big” win innovations.
  • Builders act as our Structural leaders. They are practical and cautious of new ideas. They like to create guidelines to elicit new and clear ways for employees to contribute “small win” innovations. Structural thinking is about process and clearly implementing ideas.
  • Analytical leaders are logical, data-driven thinkers. In the case of this article, they are the Improvers. They are naturally inclined to push for rigorous analysis and determine where changes can and should be made based on the data at-hand. The Improvers and Analytical Thinkers will figure out what small innovations have the best change for big wins.
  • To execute on innovation, you need a Producer. Producers are a counterpart to Emergenetics’ Social leaders. Social thinking, like Producers, is built on learning from others—Social thinkers maintain open communication and think about people. And, it’s tied to figuring out who to tap in order to ultimately bring ideas to market.

Like I said earlier, cognitive diversity is the lynchpin for successful innovation and tapping into all parts of the brain and the team will make that happen. Even though we can broadly categorize the “types of workers,” we believe and have seen that everyone has the ability to use the full gamut of thinking their disposal.

But behavior is what puts it into action: What level of Expressiveness do you use and how do you play whatever role best fits you? How do push ideas and where do you fall on the Assertiveness spectrum? What kind of environment works best in generating and carrying out ideas—more defined or more change-oriented on the Flexibility scale?

Innovation is cognitive diversity mixed with unique atmospheres mixed with actions to develop, build, improve and execute ideas. Know yourself and find your inner Innovation Leader.

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