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What’s Your Sign (Of Innovation)?

| On 16, Aug 2008

Jack Hipple

How many of you have seen one of Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy monologues? You know one of his favorite spots is his description of a certain behavior (usually not all the flattering, but funny), and then saying, “Here’s your sign!”, meaning that everyone then knows who you “are”. His version of this for who’s a redneck is particularly funny.


Do people know who you are by what you do? Can others predict what you will do by your past behavior? The answer’s usually yes. Why is that? Because each of us has different behavior traits and ways of evaluating and reacting to situations based on some aspect of our DNA, which is very ingrained. We can change natural behavior when we want to and have sufficient incentive to do so (a crisis situation or possibly when someone of higher authority imposes it on you), but it isn’t easy and if required for any length of time, will result in severe emotional or psychological consequences.


These kind of traits and behaviors are frequently measured by a variety of psychological assessment instruments such as Myers Briggs, Hermann Brain Dominance, etc. I do not want to start a debate or argument about which of these is “best”, only to have a discussion about what we do with them. For that purpose, I am going to discuss the Myers Briggs or MBTI (other similar instruments come from 16Types and Insights). You are free to choose one of the others, if you like my approach, and adopt the thinking.


When someone gets back their Myers Briggs assessment, it comes in the form of four letters: “E” or “I” (are you extroverted or introverted in your style of interaction), “S” or “N” (are you a sensor or intuitor, meaning what types of inputs are most meaningful to you—facts and data, or feelings, impressions, emotions?), “T” or “F” (how do you communicate and send out information–facts and data or with more concern for feelings?), and lastly “J” or “P” (how do you close on issues—deadlines and action lists or possibilities and general scope?). Those of you who are certified and trained in this instrument will recognize that I have greatly simplified things, but bear with me. Unfortunately, most people, after receiving this feedback and probably participating in some interesting group learning exercises, promptly file the paperwork away and seldom do anything pro-active with this valuable information.


When I facilitate innovation sessions and ask about this information, almost everyone remembers having taken the assessment and then with a little time can remember the four letters. When asked what they did with it, 100% of the time, the answer is NOTHING! It’s an interesting fact that 80% of corporate managers are STJ’s (facts, data, results, deadlines), 75% of the world are “S’s”, and most innovators are “N’s”. NP’s are a very rare breed.


That’s why so many innovation leaders eventually leave corporate America and go with startups or start a small consultancy. The conflict between “S’s” and “N’s” is the most significant difference of the four.So what’s your style (sign)? It tells you and everyone around not only how you approach innovation, but how you react to others in the same arena. If you’re an STJ, you LOVE Six Sigma. If you’re an NFP, you want to know how all the changes in the organization are going to affect the people.


So what about style and innovation? Do you analyze markets and new ideas by just looking at facts and data? Would you rather go out in the field and talk to people and watch them use a product? Are you interested in the next year’s sales growth or what totally new applications there might be for a product or service that you can’t put certainly around right now? There’s a competitive threat on the horizon. Are you more concerned about how you are going to manage a downsizing or how you might use your resources in a different way? How flexible are you in considering new businesses based around your core competencies?


It’s interesting, that over time, people clone themselves. It’s a lot easier to get along with people who think like you, isn’t it? I am sure that’s what the management at Enron thought.I said earlier that your style is very ingrained and is difficult to change, so I am not asking you to think about a lobotomy transplant, but I AM asking you to be aware of what you are, what others are, and filling in YOUR gaps with input from others, knowing your biases. Hire some people who see the world differently, especially in any innovation effort, and use their difference in perspective. Teach them how to understand you and how to use the differences to make one plus one equal 3. Use your style and the differences with others proactively and your innovation efforts will be far more productive.