What Kind of Difference Makes a Difference?

Based on the genes we inherit and the experiences we have, some of us are wired for invention while others of us are wired for innovation or improvement. In this article, we'll explore the personality differences that could make a difference when a company seeks growth from sources other than acquisition and cost reduction, and how to uncover them-how to hot-wire an organization by hiring from inside or outside the box.

All types of people are essential to a healthy invention, innovation, or improvement effort because different outlooks and skill sets-from dreamers to doers-are required to conceive, develop, and launch new or improved products or processes. No one personality type owns innovation. Innovation thrives in the tension between different types.

GE, for example, has hired and bred people who are wired for fact-based, Six Sigma management. These are bright, probably Extroverted (E) people who most likely exhibit strong Sensing (S), Thinking (T), and Judging (J) characteristics-ESTJs as identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a widely-regarded tool for determining personality types. Now GE needs people who like dealing with speculation, unarticulated customer needs, incomplete data, "soft" design strategies, loopy processes, and lots of risk. In short, GE now needs more MBTI ENTPs-who are on Intuiting (N), Thinking (T), and Perceiving (P) and their introverted complements, INTPs-who are great at spotting patterns in data and building models to help others see the unseen.

How can investing in people with specific personality traits, such as extroversion, be more important to innovation than simply investing more in R&D? Recent studies show that R&D investments tend to yield abysmally low levels of return, but that investments in extroverted innovators tend to be more productive. Extroversion may be important to nearer-term innovation success because to get things done in a big company like GE, it helps to like people and be outgoing. Extroverts may also get around more, talk with customers, have more experiences, and be more inclined to ask others to help them see things or solve problems (two heads are usually better than one). By contrast, Introverts who prefer to get information from books, papers, lab research, and testing may not be as effective when nothing has been written about a subject yet.

Why are Perception, Intuition, and Thinking also important characteristics? To conceive of the new, unique, or different, Perception—the ability to look beyond conventions and paradigms and see things in new ways or as others see them—is required. And when venturing into the unknown, Intuition must be relied upon to provide initial direction when facts are scant or altogether absent. Finally, analytical Thinking is needed to pull everything together into a logical and complete plan that will withstand the scrutiny of fact-oriented managers.

 What kinds of differences do you have?

Standardized tools can help assess who might contribute best and when to an invention, innovation, or improvement effort. Examples include:

  • Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator (MBTI) – Identifies and combines eight aspects of personality (Extroversion (E), Introversion (I), Intuition (N), Sensing (S), Thinking (T), Feeling (F), Judging (J), and Perceiving (P) into four aspect-pairings that yield 16 temperaments (e.g., ENTP, ISTJ, etc.).
  • MBTI—Creativity Index (MBTICI) – Determines creative potential based on an algorithm fed by raw MBTI scores.
  • Keirsey and Bates’ MBTI Character and Temperament Types – Reduces the 16 MBTI types to four major temperaments: 1. Rationals - NTs; 2. Idealists - NFs; 3. Guardians - SJs; and, 4. Artisans - SPs.
  • Herman Brain Dominance Indicator (HBDI) – Characterizes how someone is likely to think (1. left-brain/nonverbal or right-brain/verbal; 2. logical or intuitive; and, 3. organized or emotional) and the personality types that result (Theorist, Organizer, Humanitarian, and Innovator).
  • Kirton Adaptor Innovator (KAI) – Determines if someone creates as an Adaptor (left brained; a problem-solver, not a problem-seeker) or an Innovator (right-brained; a problem-seeker interested in new insights or solutions).
  • Buffalo Creative Process Inventory (BCPI) – Classifies personalities as Clarifiers, Ideators, Developers, and Implementers to indicate how each might contribute to new products, processes, and services.
  • Creatrix® Inventory – Measures innovation capacity based on temperament and appetite for risk-taking according to one of four quadrant-defined types: Sustainers, Challengers, Dreamers, and Innovators.

How can these tools, most of which normalize against the MBTI, determine how a candidate might contribute to a company’s growth objectives? Using the binary KAI, a manager could identify a candidate as either an Adaptor or Innovator and place him or her accordingly—or, forego the hire altogether.

Adaptors are rational, conforming, safe, and dependable—traits sought by established organizations. They work inside the box to improve things or do them better and "create" by finding reasons not to try a new idea or to “work the system.” Adaptors are found in fields such as accounting, engineering, sales, and medicine.

For Innovators, better is boring, but different is divine. Innovators can act as catalysts in staid organizations but are not who organizations usually hire, embrace, or retain because they seem disruptive, abrasive, unconcerned with convention or consensus, and are non-essential to near-term earnings. Innovators are found in fields such as finance, design, marketing, and medical research.

Edison was an Adaptor. Einstein was an Innovator. Both were creative, but in different ways. Which type does GE—or your company—need now? The answer is probably both.

Because different jobs fit the way different people are wired and attract specific personality types as a result, GE and companies like it who are striving for growth from innovation may find themselves hiring fewer physical scientists and engineers (e.g., chemists and electrical engineers) and more social scientists (e.g., anthropologists) and designers (e.g., industrial designers)— together with managers who can manage them.

Not looking to hire new people? Fine. Type isn’t everything, but team balance is. While most of us can’t change our natural type, some of us can learn to operate in a different mode, when needed, to make things happen. Type awareness is the first step in turning your team into a force to power an innovation dynamo.

 Now, what kinds of differences can you manage?

If your personality and management style are not compatible with the invention, innovation, or improvement task you have to undertake, rather than managing your team to satisfaction and success, you may actually drive them to frustration and failure.



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