If I had a hammer…an innovation alert

In this edition of Out of the Sandbox, Wendy Smolen looks at five personality types that foster innovation within a company.
April 15, 2015

Today’s job du jour is to be an innovator. We hear weekly TED talks by creative geniuses who are reshaping the world, or have been reshaped by the world. We see their inventions making headlines at shows like CES, SXSW, Toy Fair and, of course, Kidscreen Summit. Time, Fast Company, Business Insider and other magazines devote entire issues to them.

But how many real innovators do you know? I, for one, know relatively few of them. In an industry where we’re influencing kids, nurturing creativity is critical.

A study published in the April issue of Science suggests that when babies as young as 11 months old are surprised by actions around them, they use the opportunity to try to figure something out about their world. In other words, give a kid a problem, and he’ll solve it in his own innovative way…not necessarily the way you would. This creative spirit reinforces an older study by George Land and Beth Jarman revealing that 98% of five-year-olds test as geniuses, while only 2% of 25-year- olds do. Kids are naturally inventive. So do we suck the innovation out of them in 20 years…only to form companies that try to put it back in?

There is some good news. In today’s world, an innovator doesn’t have to work alone. If you read between the lines of most successful innovation stories, you’ll usually find collaborative efforts.  A Forbes Insights study, Nurturing Europe’s Spirit of Enterprise: How Entrepreneurial Executives Mobilize Organizations to Innovate, identified five personality types that foster innovation within a company. No one personality works alone. How does your organization stack up on innovation? And where do you fit in?

  • Movers and Shakers. These are the obvious leaders. They’re motivated by targets, rewards and the idea of leaving a strong legacy behind them. They drive innovation, pushing and pulling, and doing whatever it takes to reach the goal. In Forbes’s model, M&S make up 22% of the pie.
  • Experimenters. These are the scientists and inventors—the people who passionately believe in a great idea and will try, try and try again to bring it to fruition. They’re the risk-takers. But they also take pride in their achievements and are happy to share their expertise with others. About 16% of executives tend to be Experimenters.
  • Star Pupils. These are the teacher’s pets. They’re always in the right place at the right time. The know the right people, the right questions to ask, and the right combinations to get things done. Their brilliance is not in being brilliant, but in being smart. They make up about 24% of corporate executives.
  • Controllers. As the name suggest, these are the control freaks—those who work best with structure and clear-cut objectives. They want to oversee every aspect of a project.  About 15% of executives fit in this role, mostly managers or department heads; though at smaller companies, it could be the owner.
  • Hangers-On. These are the realists. The thinking suits that burst bubbles and remind everyone of budgets and limits. They make up around 23% of most companies, and are usually found in the CFO realm.

The bottom line: Innovation isn’t a singleton’s sport. If your goal is to make products that nurture kids’ natural innovative natures, you’re better off working as a team. And if you can add a few genius kids into your mix, all the better.

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