Four Types of Innovator and How to Optimize Them

By Michael Watkins

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Harvard Business Review recently published an article looking at the four types of innovators that a company needs to succeed. In this blog, we look at how Wazoku’s Challenge Driven Innovation® methodology helps support these different people across an organization.

Diversity of thought is a key foundation that underpins any innovation success. If you have a 50-strong business with everybody thinking in the same way, your outcomes will be very narrow in scope and unlikely to regularly drive tangible progress.

At Wazoku, we’ve long stated our belief that everybody has the potential to be an innovator when supported by the right tools and processes. Ensuring that the entirety of your workforce approaches problems in different ways is more likely to deliver positive outcomes from your innovation programs. With the new findings from Harvard Business Review, these are the four ‘types’ of innovator that any successful business needs:

Generators: the people that conjure new ideas are few and far between, but nonetheless an essential part of any innovation team. Generators account for only 17% of the workforce, yet their ability to ideate new ways of doing things – or new products altogether – is essential.

Conceptualizers: while similar to Generators in that they conceive of new ideas, Conceptualizers are different due to their need to define a problem through analysis rather than direct experience. Conceptualizers are also rare, making up only 19% of the workforce. However, they bring vital theoretical insights to the table that, if utilized correctly, can unlock many possible solutions to the problems they work on.

Optimizers: these innovators prefer working on existing ideas, rather than originating them. By being allowed to evaluate possible solutions to issues that the organization faces, these innovators are best placed to select workable solutions and optimize them. Optimizers make up 23% of the workforce and exist mostly in non-managerial roles.

Implementers: by far the most common innovators found in organizations (41%), Implementers are the people that find ways for solutions to work in the real world. The impatience that Implementers can have means that optimization of ideas comes later than it should, as they want to introduce solutions and get them up to speed quickly. However, these people are the best placed to ensure that ideas you’ve been working on can drive tangible growth.

In the original article, Harvard Business Review present these categories of innovator as a flat structure, as though they should all collaborate on an idea from start to finish. However, we see it differently.

Our pioneering Challenge Driven Innovation® methodology gives all of these innovators a clear role in the process. Generators exist to come up with the ideas, conceptualizers run the initial tests or conduct analysis to root out the viable solutions, optimizers fine tune solutions to give them the best chance of success, and implementers ensure that solutions are made tangible when put into practice.

We’ve run thousands of Challenges across nearly two decades in the innovation space and defining these roles from the outset makes the process of innovation easier and more repeatable. According to HBR’s research, these resources already exist in most organizations. Through processes like CDI®, businesses can then make the most of these foundations and deliver innovation at scale.

By Michael Watkins

Michael is Wazoku's Product and Brand Marketing lead. Away from the office, he's our resident film buff, so if you want some recommendations for a night in front of Netflix or a trip to your local cinema, get in touch with him!