Innovate or Die is a series that focuses on inspiring and educating organizations on the power of using an innovation system to create meaningfully unique products and services 6x faster and with 80% less risk.
Working as a growth strategist for the last eight years, and more recently getting into the innovation space, I'm remembering some of the very common themes that come up when dealing with people in these areas.
Whenever I worked with a team to create something new, different or meaningfully unique there was often different 'role players' that showed up. Each personality either harmed or helped a team depending on how bold they were. Through coaching, I eventually learned to recognize these distinct personalities.
These people do the most harm to a project and I refer to them as executioners. They have the power to kill a project by disrupting momentum, discouraging other team members or creating unnecessary tension. The challenge is in recognizing who those people are and managing them appropriately before they have a chance to impact other team members -- or even worse, derail the project.
1. The pessimists. This group is the first at the table to tell you how it won't work and will pick holes in your ideas until you and everyone else loses hope in it. Playing the side of "this won't work because" is actually important to have on a team to ensure all perceived threats are recognized and dealt with.
But without a way of managing their comments they will kill any idea before it even has a chance of taking off.
Pessimists need to have their voices heard and their comments taken into consideration. Any innovation team with a pessimist needs to give him an outlet to voice his concerns. In the innovation engineering community we use 'Death Threats' to give importance to those opinions. Death Threats are those things we believe will kill this idea. In all projects we pay special attention to them and spend a significant amount of time eliminating them.
2. The detractors. Not to be confused with the pessimist, detractors are those who rarely have something valuable to contribute to the team and often criticize the process, put down ideas and distract the team. While the pessimist can have their opinions channelled constructively, detractors often don't have very many things to add that are constructive in nature.
The detractor has the power to discourage team members and kill momentum because of her own negative bias. Innovation is not easy. It requires focus and speed and momentum, and someone who doesn't have anything constructive to add can really hurt the progress and growth of the team.
One way to deal with detractors is to step in and pull them aside to let them know how important they are to the team, why they are on the team and how they can contribute value. The detractor needs to know that her contribution to the team is important. This discussion needs to be positive and can't come across like an attack. Often this can be difficult for a peer to do so it may be easier hearing this from a leader on the team or the facilitator if there is one.
3. The know-it-alls. These people often have a great deal of experience in particular areas, so you can't tell them anything they don't already know.
They can either enable or hinder your innovation team. If not managed, they'll overrun the team and eventually intimidate everyone else who doesn't come to the table with a great deal of knowledge. This will hurt the team as diversity of opinion and thought is a necessity when it comes to innovation; without these diverse opinions you will often end up with shallow ideas.
This is where a facilitator can help manage the team by appropriately giving these peole time to share their opinions but also asking others for theirs as well by encouraging diversity among the group. All opinions are important no matter what background or level of experience so giving equal time to everyone on the team is incredibly important.
4. The agenda-holders. These people come to the table with ideas in mind already and want to see it come to fruition. They're often knowledgeable and passionate about their ideas and will sell others on the merits of it throughout the project.
This type of person could have a good idea but it very likely isn't one that's meaningfully unique. If this person isn't managed, they will eventually begin to sell others on the idea as well which damages the whole creative process. A team needs to have a chance to explore new ideas and come to their own conclusions on how to address the organizations strategic mission. They won't get that chance if the agenda-holder keeps shoving their idea down their throat.
With innovation engineering, we manage this by using a tool called the 'Mind Dump,' which gives everyone on the team a chance to get their initial big ideas out on paper. Once they get their ideas out on paper we push them to leave them there as an option and to explore the creation of new ideas!
5. The unwilling. One of my colleagues always says, "we can help anyone but the unwilling."
Someone has to be willing to learn in order to get through to them. If not, there is very little hope.
The unwilling could be anyone on the team and they could appear at any moment without warning. Perhaps they give up at certain point, disconnect from the team or begin to show disdain for the process. They stifle momentum on an innovation team because they are not interested in learning how to innovate and can distract the other team members with unfocused discussion.
So how do you manage the unwilling? Sadly, if someone isn't willing to learn, it's difficult to do anything that will get them to change their mind. However, I would point them back to the strategic mission and remind them of how important the project is to the organization's future. If they're still not interested in taking part it may be appropriate to get someone else on the team that is willing to contribute or cut them completely.
Now that you know the five executioners of innovation, recognize them, prepare for them, learn how to inspire them and bring out their strengths to impact your team in a positive rather than negative manner.
Ryan Caligiuri is an Associate and Innovation Engineering practitioner with inVision Edge – an innovation and growth company. inVision Edge is also the leader of the Canadian Innovation Engineering Network. Learn more about Innovation Engineering by attending a day and a half executive experience July 9 and 10, email Ryan for more information on this session.
Follow Ryan Caligiuri on Twitter:@RyanCaligiuri