Innovation Archetypes

The LAB: Innovating a Surgical Mask with Task Unification (May 2009)
May 3, 2009
Innovation Dilemmas
May 21, 2009

An archetype is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype after which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all. Archetypes put context to a situation. We use archetypes, for example, in marketing. We create brand archetypes to assign a personality to the brand. An example of such a model is shown at right. In political debate, it's useful to understand whether a commentator is an "archetypical democrat" or an "archetypical republican." This helps frame their comments so we know where they are coming from. Listing to the Voice of Innovation is the same. As I read blogs, interviews, podcasts, and books on innovation, I try to determine the author's innovation archetype so I know where they are coming from. I observe at least four of these.

An archetype is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype after which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all.  Archetypes put context to a situation.  We use archetypes, for example, in marketing.  We create brand archetypes to assign a personality to the brand.  An example of such a model is shown at right.  In political debate, it’s useful to understand whether a commentator is an “archetypical democrat” or an “archetypical republican.” This helps frame their comments so we know where they are coming from.

Listening to the Voice of Innovation is the same. As I read blogs, interviews, and books on innovation, I try to determine the author’s innovation archetype so I know where they are coming from.  I observe at least four of these.

The four Innovation Archetypes are:

  • Innovation Doer: These are the practitioners of innovation…people who
    innovate on a regular basis. The Innovation Doer is on the front lines and feels both accountable and
    motivated to come up with new and useful ideas.  They may or may not use a systematic
    approach. They approach situations with a natural inclination to
    change the status quo rather than preserve it.
  • Innovation Watcher: These are people with a strong interest or obsession
    with innovation created by other people. They are fascinated by novelty.
    They consume it, read about it, and report on it. They marvel at what others create but stop short of serious
    innovation themselves.  They report useful insights about innovation and innovators. They add value by commenting on trends and milestones in the world of innovation. Entire websites such as Gizmodo and Engadget fit this archetype.
  • Innovation Preacher: These are the voices that inspire others of the
    need to innovate. They make the case for innovation and change. They
    relate innovation to our everyday lives as well as to the global
    economy.  They create both hope and fear…hope in terms of what can be created through innovation, and fear from the consequences of not innovating…from being “disrupted.”
  • Innovation Teacher: These are the people who teach methods and processes of innovation.  They infect others with tools to create new ideas.  Teachers are interventionalists.
    Their students become Doers (if they have taught them well).  A number of university professors and innovation consultants fit this archetype.

It is likely there are more innovation archetypes than these four.  Others could be defined around some of the brand archetypes displayed in the model above.  Certainly there are people who display multiple archetypes, perhaps all four.

In the corporate domain, we need all four archetypes. Those that preach
create the mandate for change.  They mobilize the leadership and staff to focus on innovation as a source of organic growth. The Doers and Teachers tend to put things into motion.  Watchers are the “sense makers.”  They are trend spotters. They have a unique perspective on external innovation to give useful context to internal innovation.  A lot of corporate mergers and acquisition departments fall into this category.  They are “hunters” of opportunity.

As you listen to the Voices of Innovation, see if you
can spot their archetype.  Who are the leading Innovation Preachers in our innovation community, for example?   Also, ask yourself: what is your     archetype?
Which do you aspire to become?  Most importantly, how will you get there?

*Special thanks to Michel Jansen, author of Brand Prototyping, for use of the graphic above.