Much is written about the importance of diversity in teams and also about the competitive advantage that high-performance teams can build for an organization. There is a lot to read about boosting creativity and forcefully injecting different perspectives into the ideation process.
People are encouraged to use tools like the six thinking hats or methodologies like SCAMPER to help their teams come up with more innovative ideas. But, we don’t talk enough about the roles that are necessary for innovation success.
People are not interchangeable commodities and they don’t possess the same characteristics and aptitudes. Because it is simpler for us to pretend that people are interchangeable, we often do so, but deep down we know that people have different passions, skills and abilities. Yet we delude ourselves into thinking that every employee in our organization:
1. Is capable of coming up with the next great idea
2. Will contribute their best ideas willingly
3. Possesses the entrepreneurial spirit to move mountains to turn the idea into an innovation
4. Has the skills necessary to explain the breakthrough value to employees and customers alike
5. Is so passionate they can turn employees into willing participants and the public into eager customers
6. Maintains a whole host of other skills and abilities necessary to successfully innovate
We cross our fingers and hope that an innovation hero will come along that possesses all these things, but it is incredibly rare for one person or even one team to embody all of the above. I believe that all people are creative, in their own way. Not all people are good at creating lots of really great ideas, nor do they have to be. Innovation success comes not from a single innovator or team, but from a number of people and teams coming together to fill a set of nine innovation roles. These roles must be filled in order for innovation projects to move forward and achieve success. I would argue that most people excel at one or more of these nine innovation roles, and that when organizations put the right people in the right innovation roles, the organization’s speed and capacity for innovation will increase.
The Revolutionary is the person who is always eager to change things, to shake them up, and to share his or her opinion. These people tend to have a lot of great ideas and are not shy about sharing them. They are likely to contribute 80 to 90 percent of your ideas in open scenarios.
The Conscript has a lot of great ideas but doesn’t willingly share them, either because such people don’t know anyone is looking for ideas, don’t know how to express their ideas, prefer to keep their head down and execute, or all three.
The Connector does just that. These people hear a Conscript say something interesting and put him together with a Revolutionary; The Connector listens to the Artist and knows exactly where to find the Troubleshooter that his idea needs.
The Artist doesn’t always come up with great ideas, but artists are really good at making them better.
5. Customer Champion
The Customer Champion may live on the edge of the organization. Not only does he have constant contact with the customer, but he also understands their needs, is familiar with their actions and behaviors, and is as close as you can get to interviewing a real customer about a nascent idea.
Every great idea has at least one or two major roadblocks to overcome before the idea is ready to be judged or before its magic can be made. This is where the Troubleshooter comes in. Troubleshooters love tough problems and often have the deep knowledge or expertise to help solve them.
The Judge is really good at determining what can be made profitably and what will be successful in the marketplace.
8. Magic Maker
The Magic Makers take an idea and make it real. These are the people who can picture how something is going to be made and line up the right resources to make it happen.
The Evangelists know how to educate people on what the idea is and help them understand it. Evangelists are great people to help build support for an idea internally and also to help educate customers on its value.
Most organizations are too focused on generating ideas and not enough on developing their ideas or their people. Organizations that pursue innovation with the nine innovation roles in mind are more likely to cross the bridge from idea to execution. Failure to involve and leverage all nine roles along the idea generation, idea evaluation and idea commercialization path will lead to suboptimal results. While it may seem that involving all nine innovation roles in the development of your innovation ideas might make for crowded project teams, in actuality, creating a full house of innovation will ensure that the all of the main elements of innovation success are being looked after. Bringing in the right roles at the right times will help connect partial ideas into more complete potential solutions, will help you identify and overcome barriers to development and adoption, and improve your chances of making your innovation projects successful. So what will your role be in your organization’s future innovation success?
Braden Kelley is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden is also the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy, and @innovate on Twitter.