What’s Your Innovation Type?

There has been conversation on the SA Collaborative Blog and in other places about “radical practitioners” and innovation in the student affairs space.  The dialogs have been spirited and thought provoking.  But, I think we’ve missed exploring more deeply at least one piece of the conversation, and that is that there isn’t just one way to be innovative or only one type of innovator.  There are a lot of books and articles that discuss types of innovators.  But, my go-to guide on the subject is Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley at IDEO (in fact, I might be just a little too into the book, because I’ve developed a self-assessment tool around the types he presents!).

In this blog I want to give a quick overview of the ten types and why recognizing that different types exist (even if you don’t agree with this specific list) is an important step in being able to involve others, or maybe involve yourself if you don’t think you’re an innovator, in this conversation.

A quick note that below I’m going to use the word “customer,” knowing that it can be problematic to call students customers.  But, substitute that word for your own preference: student, client, resident, guest, etc. as you see fit.

Kelley splits the ten types into three categories:

1. The Learning Personas
2. The Organizing Personas
3. The Building Personas

There are three types in the Learning Personas category.   The Anthropologist is the keen “eye witness.”  These people innovate by getting a deep understanding of interactions through observation.  The Experimenter is constantly in prototype mode.  These people innovate through “enlightened trial and error.”  The Cross-Pollinator is driven to pull from disconnected sources.  These people innovate by seeing something work in one context and applying it to another.

There are three types in the Organizing Personas category, as well.  The Hurdler is an expert at navigating obstacles.  These people innovate by pushing projects through roadblocks and overcoming bureaucracy.  The Collaborator thrives on bringing people together.  These people innovate by finding synergies and “multidisciplinary solutions.”  The Director also brings people together, but these people innovate by on leading these groups and sparking their talents.

There are four types in the Building Personas category.  The Experience Architect is concerned with creating “deeper” experiences.  These people innovate by looking beyond the basic needs of a customer or functions of a situation to create something special.  The Set Designer focuses on physical environments.  These people innovate through an understanding of how these environments impact behavior and attitude.  The Caregiver is one who provides truly great, personalized service. These people innovate by truly caring about customers and anticipating their needs.  The Storyteller is a developer of compelling narratives.  These people innovate by finding, and helping others find, meaning in the stories embedded in organizational culture and customer experience.

It’s difficult to convey these types in a few short sentences.  But, hopefully this quick overview will help you see that even if you don’t say to yourself, “I am an innovator,” that doesn’t mean you are not contributing to an environment that can be innovative.  Innovation is the application of new ideas and solutions.  But, the source of those can and do come from a variety of perspectives.  So, I encourage you to consider (or reconsider) how you are pushing your office, your field and our profession forward.

After doing the self-assessment that I created with my office, it was enlightening to discuss how we might approach different problems or situations through the different type lenses.  I don’t think that we are all only one type, and I don’t think that was Kelley’s intention.   But, I find it incredibly useful to try to see things with these types’ perspectives.  So, next time you’re in a meeting and find yourself wanting to say “can I play devil’s advocate for a minute.”  Instead say “can I play The Anthropologist for a minute” or “can I play The Set Designer for a minute” and see if you get better results!

Cross-posted on the Student Affairs Collaborative Blog

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