The Nine Innovation Roles

I’m seeing an increasing number of articles about innovation personalities and the like, and I’m a firm believer that it’s not personalities that matter so much when it comes to innovation, it’s the roles that we play in making innovation happen (or not). So, I would like to add my Nine Innovation Roles to the conversation.

The Nine Innovation RolesThe following is an excerpt from my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire:

Too often we treat people as commodities that are interchangeable and maintain the same characteristics and aptitudes. Of course, we know that people are not interchangeable, yet we continually pretend that they are anyway — to make life simpler for our reptile brain to comprehend. Deep down we know that people have different passions, skills, and potential, but even when it comes to innovation, we expect everybody to have good ideas.

I’m of the opinion that all people are creative, in their own way. That is not to say that all people are creative in the sense that every single person is good at creating lots of really great ideas, nor do they have to be. I believe instead that everyone has a dominant innovation role at which they excel, and that when properly identified and channeled, the organization stands to maximize its innovation capacity. I believe that all people excel at one of nine innovation roles, and that when organizations put the right people in the right innovation roles, that your innovation speed and capacity will increase.

Here are The Nine Innovation Roles:

1. Revolutionary

  • The Revolutionary is the person who is always eager to change things, to shake them up, and to share his or her opinion. These people tend to have a lot of great ideas and are not shy about sharing them. They are likely to contribute 80 to 90 percent of your ideas in open scenarios.

2. Conscript

  • The Conscript has a lot of great ideas but doesn’t willingly share them, either because such people don’t know anyone is looking for ideas, don’t know how to express their ideas, prefer to keep their head down and execute, or all three.

3. Connector

  • The Connector does just that. These people hear a Conscript say something interesting and put him together with a Revolutionary; The Connector listens to the Artist and knows exactly where to find the Troubleshooter that his idea needs.

4. Artist

  • The Artist doesn’t always come up with great ideas, but artists are really good at making them better.

5. Customer Champion

  • The Customer Champion may live on the edge of the organization. Not only does he have constant contact with the customer, but he also understands their needs, is familiar with their actions and behaviors, and is as close as you can get to interviewing a real customer about a nascent idea.

6. Troubleshooter

  • Every great idea has at least one or two major roadblocks to overcome before the idea is ready to be judged or before its magic can be made. This is where the Troubleshooter comes in. Troubleshooters love tough problems and often have the deep knowledge or expertise to help solve them.

7. Judge

  • The Judge is really good at determining what can be made profitably and what will be successful in the marketplace.

8. Magic Maker

  • The Magic Maker takes an idea and makes it real. These are the people who can picture how something is going to be made and line up the right resources to make it happen.

9. Evangelist

  • The Evangelist knows how to educate people on what the idea is and help them understand it. Evangelists are great people to help build support for an idea internally, and also to help educate customers on its value.

As you can see, creating and maintaining a healthy innovation portfolio requires that you develop the organizational capability of identifying what role each individual is best at playing in your organization. It should be obvious that a failure to involve and leverage all nine roles along the idea generation, idea evaluation, and idea commercialization path will lead to suboptimal results. To be truly successful, you must be able to bring in the right roles at the right times to make your promising ideas stronger on your way to making them successful. Most organizations focus too much energy on generating the ideas and not enough on developing their ideas or their people.

If you would prefer, here is a slide deck that I posted to slideshare.net:

Action Items

  1. Download the simple Nine Innovation Roles Worksheet from my FREE STUFF page and use it in your groups to help understand what innovation roles people tend towards and which ones are underrepresented.
  2. Do you believe these are the roles that drive successful innovation? If not, why not.
  3. Book a Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Workshop
  4. This is just an excerpt. Please check out the whole book.

Sound off in the comments below.

Book a Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Workshop

About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B inbound marketing strategies that attract and engage customers, partners, and employees. He is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies on how to increase their revenue and cut their costs since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School.
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14 Responses to The Nine Innovation Roles

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  2. Ken Rosen says:

    Brandon,
    I like these roles…a lot. And while I don’t question that all nine are different, since I’m in a role of helping orgs innovate, I find myself wanting to simplify–in the service of creating a story companies accept. On those lines, I wonder if multiple roles can be and are often delivered by one person. That is, when I look at roles like Artist/Troubleshooter or Connector/Evangelist, I wonder whether these are truly different–not in definition, but in real-world execution. In that vein, even your Magic Maker (nice term) is typically going to need a great deal of Artist/Troubleshooter to be successful. I’m not saying this to quibble. As I said, I find the story compelling. But that makes me want to sell it…and thatmakes me wonder about ways to create a list busy folks can keep in their heads at one time.
    I’ll put more thought into it…and feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss via your secret email address request.
    Ken Rosen (www.PerTalks.com)

  3. Pingback: The Nine Innovation Roles by Braden Kelley « Lundsten | Consulting & Innovation

  4. Hal Hopson says:

    Thanks Braden – acknowledging that these different personalities/skillsets all have important contributions to make in a successful innovation program is an important step forward.
    I wonder how far companies should go in implementing processes to ensure they have the right mix of ‘innovation roles’ at the right points in their programs. I’m also curious if anyone has developed ways of assessing performance in these roles. For example, we might identify 100 ‘judge’ personalities – but which ones are best suited for evaluating different ideas?

  5. That’s a great question Hal. I would be very interested in exploring innovation roles deeper in a separate book if people would be interested in me doing it, and would be willing to participate. :-)

  6. Thank you for the feedback Ken. I’ll ponder that a bit…

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  9. Good post, and I like the categories you’re using. For those looking for a book, I recommend The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley from IDEO. It touches on many of these same types/categories (with slightly different terminology). Here’s an amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Ten-Faces-Innovation-Organization/dp/0385512074

  10. Thank you for the nine roles. Would you please discuss further the relationship between entrepreneurial spirit and creativity ability? I consider these two the most important invisible resources of entrepreneurs and enterprises.

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