Innovation works if every member of the team plays to their strengths.

What’s the Connection?

Innovation requires people to look at the existing and visualise the new or different. As a consequence the way in which they interpret the world and the context will have an impact on how they approach innovation. Their natural ways of operating (which are all different) will also come into play, so getting a handle on all of this is critical to putting together a team to innovate in your organisation.

It’s also the case that the required innovation may call for different combinations. Designing a new product is not necessarily the same as designing a new business process. As an example, a production line may require minor changes in tooling to build a new product. A complete redesign of production may require not only those tweaks but potentially a new production line or factory. However a radical new product may require only modest changes to the production facilities/processes or a complete rebuild.

Preferred Ways of Seeing the World?

We need to understand that the way in which individuals perceive and interact with the world around them is not the same for everyone. If you’ve spent any time in management you are likely to have come across explanations based on the work of the psychologist Carl Jung and subsequently expanded by Myers-Briggs. The quick explanation is that there are 4 pairs of dimensions and we each have a natural position on each. It’s never 100% at one end – there is quite a gradation between, for example, Introversion (seeking the answers from within the mind) and Extraversion (seeking information/answers from external sources).

There is also a strong difference between Sensing – people who sense the world by collating lots of information before acting and those who are mostly Intuitive and decide based on minimal information. We also move around a bit on each dimension according to circumstances, as well as migrating over time as our cumulative experience informs us.

However because of these differences, the wise leader of innovation and change will take account of the mix at work in the team and the wider community that is impacted. In some ways it is like trying to agree a set of dishes for a disparate group of people in the Indian restaurant. Some like hot and spicy, others creamy with coconut. Rice, chapatis or naan? Meat, fish or vegetarian? And so on. I’m sure you’ve experienced that discussion at some point but when did you ever have the same negotiation about an approach to a business problem?

It’s quite odd to think that often we are more accommodating of differences in a social setting. By contrast in a work environment our own approaches seem to be the obvious ones that everyone else ought to be adopting. Thinking about it in this way does highlight the need for collaboration and negotiation, without being judgmental.

Different Styles of Innovation?

You may be surprised to learn that there are some very different styles or approaches to innovation. Yet none is better than another, they all have a place and are frequently best used in combination.

Everyone lies somewhere on the spectrum of approach to change. It’s hard-wired into our brains and is a natural personal style that hardly changes at all over our life. At one extreme are people who are very adaptive in their approach. At the other end are those who take great leaps into the unknown and are labelled innovators. (This is slightly misleading since both styles can innovate – it’s just that they do it differently.) The vast majority of us are clustered around the middle, being slightly more adaptive or innovative in style.

The contrast between Adaptors and Innovators as people is that they approach change in two fundamentally different ways:

Adaptors tend to do things better and are great at incrementally improving things. They are also good at taking things from the existing into a new place, once that has been carefully defined, as they can see the minor steps along the way. They can also curb some of the wild enthusiasm of the really high Innovators.

Innovators tend to do things differently and are good at step change or big changes in direction. They can be more than a little impatient if things don’t go at pace and need to be reined in from time to time and allow everyone else to catch up with their thinking. They will also challenge the routine and existing ways of doing things – not a bad start when you really want to shake things up.

Is There a Best Style?

The short answer is NO. That said, there are some aspects of innovation that are best led by people with certain styles.

The most naturally Innovative people are usually found in R&D Departments and – interestingly – in HR Management. Marketers are just behind them. Operations staff are usually Moderate Adaptors. Engineers tend to be Moderate or in some case High Adaptors.

Some accountants and lawyers can be right at the Adaptive end of the scale. IT people can be at either side of the divide – depending on the sorts of things they naturally prefer doing. Testers and software engineers need to be adaptive – they need to iron out the bugs

So, armed with these generalisations, you might be able to identify likely sources of each type since people tend to gravitate towards jobs that fit their natural styles in the first instance. The second thing to take into account is precisely what sort of innovation is being called for in the transformation under consideration. Is it to be step change and doing things differently (more likely with a real transformative approach)? On the other hand is there to be a large element of polishing and incremental improvement?

The Effects on Communication?

Not only do the ways in which people interpret the world differ it also can impact on how they give and receive information. Let’s just start with 4 different styles. There are people whose main preference is:

  1. Telling
  2. Talking
  3. Listening; or
  4. Writing

So it’s no good trying to talk to someone who wants everything written down – they simply won’t take it all in. On the other hand a person who likes to Tell, also needs to be told quite strongly. Keep it brief not discursive – that’s for the Listener or Talker. Getting to know these preferences in your immediate team is a good place to start. It will actually improve your communications as long as you pay attention to what it is telling you.

This flows over into the communications around change and innovation. They need to be broad spectrum in their transmission to gain maximum coverage and impact.

There are a couple of other interesting side-effects of personal innovative styles.

  • Seeing people as abrasive or conversely viewing them as slow to catch up
  • Complaints about being interrupted before they have finished making a point, conversely frustration that someone takes forever to get to the point.

Neither of these are pejorative – they are based in the way the individual interprets the world. So you have to take account of this. In fact what they demonstrate is the communication difficulties that always appear when two people are some way apart on the spectrum of Adaptor-Innovator styles. Get your teams to understand this is the case and then work out ways to overcome the problems caused. If you want more help, then we’re happy to consult.

What's the motivation?

What’s the motivation?

What’s causing fear?

Motivations & Basic Fears (DISC)

We all have some pretty strong motivations that dominate how we approach work. Yet again they are different in their impact.

High Dominance types are motivated by Power & Authority; and their greatest fear is Failure. [D]
Influencing types desire Public Praise & Recognition; they mostly fear Rejection. [I]
Where Steadiness prevails, the motivation will be Security; and they fear or dislike Insecurity. [S]
Those who are mostly high Compliance love Standard Operating Procedures; and hate Conflict. Even just recognising those few components of people’s makeup can help find better ways to use their talents and motivations. [C]

Basic Factor Combinations

It’s not simply the case that people are only one type. There will always be a high preference for one or two of the DISC styles. When it comes to creativity and innovation the people who show the following combinations are particularly good at roles requiring the characteristics shown

Creativeness – Imagination D/I
Individuality D/C
Self-confidence I/C

These items are frequently important when innovation is on the agenda

Quick Insights

You can actually get very quick insights from the ways people go about their work and a frequently used phrase.

They say:They tend to be:
I did it!Organised/detailed
You do it!Leader/focussed
Why?In transition/exciting
No problem!Friendly/nurturing
What if?Creative/conceptual

Making Sense of it All

By now it should be apparent that making this all come together requires the skill of the orchestral conductor. Yet that is precisely what is needed from the leader of innovation and change. They cannot be directive, there is simply too much going on. Nor can they do everything themselves (akin to playing all the instruments simultaneously).

Who’s conducting?

How Will You Work This Out?

We’ve been using these and many other insights in practical ways with clients and organisations for many years. We’d be very happy to have a conversation to help you work out the best way forward, so get in touch.

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Rob Wherrett can be contacted at

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