Perfect Casting

To truly unlock your employees' talents, you need to understand who they are and what roles best suit them.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the April 2006 . Subscribe »

Worried about your product line in an increasingly competitive global marketplace? It's time to spot the innovators in your midst. In his most recent book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, author Tom Kelley talks about 10 roles employees can play to spur innovation at the conference room table. We asked Kelley, general manager of Ideo, a Palo Alto, California, industrial design and human factors firm, about the top three innovative personality types described in his book.

Entrepreneur: It seems like the Anthropologist--someone who observes customer behavior to uncover new insights--is your favorite type of innovator. Is that true?

Tom Kelly: There is something almost disarming to me about the anthropolo-gist. Often, when [they] come back with a finding, you recognize it instantly as [being] correct. It's like, "Why didn't I think of that?" Latent customer needs-that's what the anthropologist is all about. I believe it's the single biggest source of innovation in our firm.

Let's talk about the experimenter. Who is this person?

Kelley: The experimenter [learns] by enlightened trial and error. In the book, I talk about people who are remark-ably nimble and quick at doing experiments. If you can develop a culture or a process in which your organization conducts more experiments faster and cheaper than the people down the street, then you can learn at a faster rate, which means you can keep ahead of the competition.

And the cross-pollinator?

Kelley: [This is] somebody who looks across industries [and] geographies, [who] seeks learning in places that people tend not to look. [They] say, "How is our business like that business? What can we learn?" The huge successes are the ones who crossed the line, who came up with a business model or an idea that didn't live in their industry. The cross-pollinator is a huge, untapped way to help your company learn.

How can entrepreneurs think differently and spot these innovative types?

Kelley: Eliminate [negative thinking] from [your] vocabulary and frame up more positive discussions about ideas. [It's] about creating a more idea-friendly environment in which people can discuss things openly, and then build on the ideas of others.

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