Four Faces of an Innovator

We know that innovators combine multiple skills and thinking styles – divergent and convergent thinking styles, left and right brain skills, creative thinking and entrepreneurial thinking etc. I realized that the most successful innovators do something lot more complex than that – combine four distinct personalities. The four personalities are not only distinct but also conflicting in certain aspects. If you wonder how they manage to do this, believe me, you are not alone – it took me six years of study of the personality profile of innovators across different domains to understand this.

Here I wish to share my insights on the complex, multi-dimensional personality of an Innovator. My first observation is that successful Innovations, across different domains/industries, have four components in common :

  • first getting an insightful idea
  • next figuring out how to create value out of the idea
  • executing the idea well
  • and finally making it a success in the market

We very rarely find excellence, in either individuals or organizations, in all these four domains of creative ideation, value creation, execution and commercialization. This is the prime reason for the poor conversion (less than 5%) of ideas into innovations. To succeed in Innovation, individuals have to hone all these four skills. Organizations need to create a diverse, cross-functional team by bringing together people who are strong in one or more of these four domains.

We need to measure progress and improve our innovation process from all these four perspectives – the four reliable metrics, to measure innovation progress are:

(a) quality of the idea
(b) strength of the value proposition
(c) how well the idea has been executed
(d) how successful is it in the market

The skills that an Innovator needs and the approach that he or she adopts for success in each of these four domains is significantly different:

to get an insightful idea – the Innovator is focused on knowledge – he needs to constantly acquire knowledge for knowledge sake, willingly share knowledge with others, be open to new ideas across multiple domains, naturally curious and always be open to possibilities (B-type Personality)

to create value out of the idea – the Innovator is focused on strategy – need to think like an entrepreneur, look at things from a customer’s perspective, think in a divergent manner, empathize with the customer, create a strategy to take the idea to the Customer (K-type Personality).

executing the idea – the Innovator is fully focused on execution – demonstrate the willingness and discipline to follow instruction, pursue continuous improvement, be ready to temporarily lose identity and work with a large cross functional team without any ego (S-type Personality).

making it a success in the market – the Innovator is focused on monetization – needs to think strategically, create and follow a road map, predict trends in evolution, understand market forces and be quick to respond to changes (V-type Personality).

Success in Innovation needs excellence in all four domains.  If your Innovation team lacks B-type persons, your ideas will not be insightful enough to create value in newer ways to Customers. You may be good in execution and monetization, but the impact will be minimal because of the incremental nature of the idea.

Teresa Amabile has discussed the creativity killers and the traps that exist in large organizations and prevent creative ideas from fluorishing (refer to her HBR papers).
Phil McKinney (author, Beyond the Obvious & Killer Innovation) has recommended killer questions that could trigger insightful ideas.

If your Innovation team lacks K-type persons, you will have great ideas but you will struggle to create value out of it – you wont have a sound strategy to take it to your Customer. Your teams skills in execution and monetization remains largely unutilized.

If your Innovation team lacks S-type persons, then you may come up with many insightful ideas, create value out of it and know how to make money out of it but you will invariably mess it up during execution.

Scott Belsky (author, Making Ideas Happen) stresses the importance of execution – many great ideas fail to become innovations because they were poorly executed. Organizations do not suffer from lack of ideas but poor execution of ideas.

Vijay Govindaran and Chris Trimble (authors – The Other Side of Innovation) focus on solving the execution challenge and making innovation happen.

If your Innovation team lacks V-type persons, you will be working with great ideas, create good value out of it, execute it well yet you will be struggling to make it a profitable business, even if it makes profit initially you wont be able to sustain it, you will falter in responding to the dynamics of the Market. Tesla’s great idea of connecting the world (wireless) got killed because his financier could not figure out how to make money out of it.

I wish to conclude that the Real Challenge of Innovation – Switching between the four faces:

The Innovator needs to be calm, balanced and unselfish to allow insightful ideas to sprout in his mind. He needs to switch over and become very passionate to create value out of the Idea and think strategically to predict & overcome the barriers. He again needs to switch over and execute the idea dispassionately in a disciplined manner. The final switch over happens when he aggressively enters the market with his idea, tracks and pursues all the sources of revenue and hunts down competition without any mercy. The real challenge for the Innovator is to make these switches at the right time and play the appropriate role. In each of these four phases, he is a totally different animal. It is very important that he keeps constantly switching between these four personalities and play his role well as the Idea evolves into an Innovation.

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Four Faces of an InnovatorDr. Shankar Venugopal is Innovation Differentiation Leader at Honeywell Technology Solutions Ltd, and formerly Principal Scientist at Dow Chemicals International. A Co-Inventor on 10 issued US Patents, his areas of expertise include: Materials Innovation, R&D Leadership, TRIZ, IP Strategy & Management, Technology Entrepreneurship and Customer Value Creation, Technology Scouting, New Product Development for Emerging Markets and Teaching Innovation Management. He is the creator of  Innovation Flow.

Dr. Shankar Venugopal




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No Comments

  1. Antonio Basauri on August 6, 2012 at 2:41 am

    Dear Dr. Shankar, very good post. Interesting and different point of your view about innovation process.
    Have a possibility to qatar a academic relationship with you, because I teach creativity for innovation at Universidad Del Desarrollo (, in iCubo Institute of multidisciplinary research for innovation.
    Thank’s for your attention and I’ll hope your answer about my proposal.
    A creative hug,
    Antonio Basauri P

    • Dr Shankar Venugopal on August 6, 2012 at 3:18 am

      Thanks Professor Antonio Basauri for your compliments and the invitation to colloborate academically – I look forward to it. I have detailed out the plan in an email to you.

  2. Braden Kelley on August 8, 2012 at 11:45 am

    If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy the Nine Innovation Roles framework for optimizing innovation team success:


  3. John Wolpert on August 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Dr. Venugopal, this was a very thought-filled piece. Thanks. Would love to compare notes about your study of innovators. I’m compiling ours from 15 years of observing IBM’s and others’ innovators in enterprise, startup and government contexts.

    It occurs to me that we create some confusion by merging so many very different competencies into the notion of Innovation. For example, can it not be said that Execution belongs to…Execution – regardless of whether you are executing a paradigm shift or simply improving a product line or making operations more efficient. Certainly if a company wants to get value out of any decision it makes – innovative or otherwise – it must execute, so saying that innovation requires execution to be successful feels somewhat tautological and distracts from the central issue of innovation: how to spot and commit to a new direction.

    It could be said that the central aspect of innovation lies in a very short period between longer periods of focus on operational excellence. That period can be described as when individuals or groups (e.g., companies):

    1) Reach the crisis or destabilization event (“we must change!”);
    2) Collect their portfolio of options (“how will we change?”);
    3) Commit to a new model (“here is what we will become!”);
    4) Pivot when the new model encounters mismatches with reality (“we are trying things that aren’t working..repeat steps 2,3,4”).

    Once the “canoe” has cleared the rocks of the pivot, it is into execution and follow-through, back to a period that really isn’t about innovation but about execution.

    Next post on will cover this in more detail.

  4. Prakash on September 4, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Brilliant one, Shankar. When it comes to organization, the real innovation is to bring these faces together to make innovations. This is also a challenge for organization, which is why collaboration (thus the way to collaborate) is most important in making innovation happen.

  5. Kodandaram Balaji on September 5, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    More interested in such inputs, let me learn more with you

  6. Sumant Sood on December 27, 2012 at 6:07 am

    Mr. L. R. Natrajan from Titan wanted to get in touch with you

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