Six personas in innovation cultures


The cultural variances of innovation are not unlike cross-cultural variances around the world.  Even in cultures that speak the same language we can miss nuances that are the difference between success and failure. So much like the application of emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence, organizations must study the “other IQ” in the form of Innovation Intelligence.

It is very easy for innovation to lose steam, especially after a major innovation breakthrough. People are intellectually and physically exhausted and they just need a break from the exhaustive nature of creativity and disruptive change.

However, some organizations are able to reward innovation and thus sustain it. I would argue that this is largely a result of assembling teams of high performance “innovation personas” that have the agility of a gymnast and the endurance of a long distance runner.

In my work with healthcare technology practitioners I’ve found that, in addition to individual innovation personas, there is a collaborative or collective persona unique to each specific project. It’s important to note that these personas are entirely situational. You can have the same ten innovators work on a slightly different disruptive initiative and the collective chemistry could change dramatically. Emotional dials are adjusted based in slight variations in the emotional capital one has in a certain initiative. There are some innovation personas that are unwavering regardless of the task, but that is not the norm.

Here are a few of the personas I’ve experienced in driving innovation in a variety of industries:

The Representative of the Holy See:

This persona has the unique ability to develop buy-in across highly decentralized business units. Unlike other innovation stakeholders they are seen as having no personal bias in the project other than its successful completion. This persona provides assurances to underrepresented organizations on the innovation team that their interests are being represented. In order to establish confidence with the profit center leaders the Representative of the Holy See must demonstrate a deep understanding of the variety of business units involved in the project.

The Dreamer 

Some people are genetically predisposed to be dreamers and creative disruptors. Many have a very difficult time executing the dream, but when paired with those who can, the dreamer is absolutely critical to the innovation process. True dreamers realize their insatiable need to ideate and they are not dissuaded by failure. They play by the odds that there may be one big hit for every ten tries. The other nine build character!

The Analyst

This analyst persona can be a mixed blessing. While many projects need deep analysis and analytics, we all have experienced the speedbump of “paralysis by analysis.”  This person is not necessarily a finance type or even a scientist, they simply like to analyze all alternatives. CFOs love the analyst as they sense there’s some degree of adult supervision in the skunkworks process. Others that appreciate agility are not so kind. Regardless this is a critical persona to have on the team simply for balance and professional diversity.

The High Velocity Techno-geek

This was not pejorative by any stretch. There is a different kind of technologist needed in accelerated innovation projects. Whereas enterprise IT has been stereotyped as the land of “slow and NO,” this persona focuses strictly on using technology to realize the art of the possible.

The Skeptic

While I personally lean toward the dreamer persona, I realize that any innovation must have a person on the team who, by design, tries to poke holes in the project. Far too many innovation teams operate strictly using an inside-out lens with no real feedback from the marketplace. The skeptic is an embedded focus group who is tasked with asking questions that the most critical client will ask. While this is largely role playing, many other innovation team members will learn to despise the skeptic for simply doing the job they were asked to do.

This job title was made famous by Pixar, which hired skeptics to help them avoid making animation projects so phony that even movie goers expecting fantasy would find them unbelievable.

The Collaborative Persona

Innovation teams eventually develop a collective personality of their own. I’ve been on innovation teams with exactly the same members that had a totally different collaborative persona mainly because the mission was different. For example, digital disruption innovation could create a totally different group personality than a project related to branding.


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