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Who likes playing with what kind of thinking tools?

During the past one-and-a-half decades, I designed and facilitated more than 150 innovation project workshops. One thing I noticed in all these projects is the following reality: Depending on their personality and preferred cognitive styles, different people tend to enjoy working on different types of thinking tools used within the creative process. Thanks to TIPS, Thinkergy’s innovator profiling tool, I can now tell you in advance who’s going to shine working on what kind of thinking tool in an innovation project. Allow me to explain.

How an innovation project unfolds in a nutshell

When companies want to tackle a vital innovation challenge in a project, they first find a manager to lead the initiative. Then, this manager forms innovation teams that work on the case in one or more workshops. Next, she invites an external innovation facilitator to guide the teams through the process with the help of a systematic creative process (such as Design Thinking or X-IDEA). Prominent innovation methods consist of a series of process stages (e.g., X-IDEA has five stages called Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation, and Action). As the teams move stage-by-stage through the process, the facilitator introduces specific thinking tools that the teams need to work on to produce the desired outputs and results.

How cognitive profiling can enhance innovation project work

Thinkergy’s Innovation Profiling System TIPS uses four socio-economic base orientations (theories, ideas, people, systems) and four cognitive styles (to think, work, interact, and live) to profile people into one of eleven TiPS innovator profiles. 

Now suppose you’re in charge of an innovation project as a project manager or an innovation facilitator. Would you be keen to know more about the personalities and preferred cognitive styles of each team member participating in the innovation project? 

Gaining such awareness would make your life much easier. Knowing the TIPS innovator profiles of everyone involved enables you to compose innovation teams that are cognitively diverse within but balanced across all groups. It also allows you to understand who is likely to shine at what stage of the creative process. Last but not least, it even allows you to accurately assign a specific thinking tool to those team members who have a natural affinity to apply it well. 

Who enjoys working on what thinking tools?

In the following, let’s go through the 11 TIPS innovator (clockwise on the TIPS Profiling Map starting on the top left) and understand what kind of thinking tools (taken from our X-IDEA toolbox) they delight in:

  • Theorists are logical, abstract thinkers who, above else, care about the truth. In an innovation project, let them work on critical thinking tools such as performing Fact Checks or Assumption Checks, checking for Rules For Fools, or probing for the Lowest Common Denominator related to the project challenge.
  • Conceptualizers are strategic big-picture thinkers who particularly shine in the first process stage of an innovation project. They enjoy creating Trends & Discontinuities Maps or Strategic Road Maps. They also perform well when engaging in Situational Reframing of key project parameters. Conceptualizers also enjoy working on a Challenge Map used to identify the right level of abstraction to frame the Final Challenge (a crucial “how to”-question used to generate ideas later in the project).
  • Ideators are progressive creators who enjoy pushing for bold, disruptive change. it’s little wonder they tend to come up with wild, provocative ideas (courtesy of Ideation tools such as What If, Reversal, or Born To Be Wild). During Evaluation, Ideators are also the most likely to throw in a Wild Card to move forward a disruptive idea concept that the majority of a more conservative team rejects.
  • Promoters are charismatic communicators who connect ideas to people. They enjoy imaginative creativity tools such as Imagination Trips, Star Advisor Board, or My Superstar during Ideation. And Me. In the final process stage, Action, they lead a team’s work efforts on thinking tools such as Storyboarding, Idea Pitch Designer, and Idea Pitch.
  • Partners always want to be around others and care for the needs and desires of people. Hence, chose a few Partners to take an Empathetic Point Of View on your case or to Walk A Mile in the shoes of key stakeholders involved in your challenge. And of course, they enjoy Brainstorming or Battle Of The Sexes (during Ideation) and Ideabook (a more social way to do Evaluation).
  • Organizers are the most operational and hands-on among all the profiles. They naturally focus on the small pictures related to your project case. Hence, they enjoy exploring all the details of your challenge with the help of a questioning tool such as 5W1H. They also like to compile a Project Plan and a 5W2H Action Plan for the actual implementation of a top idea.
  • Systematizers like to preserve the status quo and dislike taking risks. In the first process stage of an innovation project, assign them to work on creating a Strategic Risk Map or coming up with realistic Idea Evaluation Criteria. If involved in the creative stages, they prefer practical creativity tools such as Morphological Matrix and Get Real (used to tame a wild idea). During Evaluation, they prefer “objective” tools such as the Weighted Scoring Model (criteria-based rating and computation of a team’s top ideas).
  • Use Technocrats to play The Numbers Game and check on the plausibility of key quantitative data related to your case. Later on during Evaluation, they take pleasure in composing a Balance Sheet (i.e., listing all the assets & liabilities of an ideas, as well as “below the line” items as possible contingencies). Finally, they don’t mind if you assign them with keeping track of all top concepts that you enter into the Idea Pipeline.
  • Coaches are rare as a unicorn, so count yourself lucky if you have one in an innovation team. Ask a philosophical, humanistic Coach to compile a list of thought-provoking X Questions to both deeply and widely probe for the team’s understanding of the case—and its knowledge gaps. A Coach also enjoys asking Five Times Why to probe for the underlying motivations of doing the project. You may also assign a Coach to think about the Consequences of implementing a particularly disruptive top idea.
  • Experimenters systematically test ideas. As they like to take things apart and reconfigure them anew, they embrace more formal Ideation Tools such as Attribute Listing or Relational Words. And of course, they’re the first to roll up the sleeves when it’s time for Rapid Prototyping of promising concepts.
  • Finally, as an innovation manager or facilitator, be grateful for any All-Rounders taking part in the innovation project. Because All-Rounders have many interests and are the most balanced among all profiles, you can have them work on any thinking tool that is left to do. Alternatively, ask them to support any team member who needs help while working on a particular thinking tool assignment.

Conclusion: Know your people before assigning the work on innovation tools

To sum-up, an innovation facilitator who is aware of the innovator profiles of all participants in an innovation project workshop can assign the work on a particular thinking tool to those participants who exhibit conducive cognitive styles. Why is this useful? Three reasons:

  1. Greater enjoyment: When a facilitator assigns thinking tools based on their cognitive fit, all team members work on those tools that they enjoy, thus increasing employee engagement and commitment to innovation.
  2. Higher productivity: Greater enjoyment and involvement increases the odds that everyone produces excellent outputs in a particular stage of the creative process, and that the teams end up with superior innovation results overall by the end of the innovation project
  3. Greater effectiveness: Finally, assigning tool work based on cognitive preference also allows teams to be more time-effective. The facilitator can split up a team into various subgroups where each member works on those tools that are in harmony with cognitive styles and interests. In result, an innovation team can produce more and better outputs in a given amount of time. 

Of course, gaining such awareness in your people’s innovator profiles requires a small upfront investment of time and money. But aren’t the increases in enjoyment, productivity, and time-effectiveness worth it?

  • Would you like to learn more about how we run innovation projects using our award-winning X-IDEA innovation method?
  • Have you become curious to find out what’s your TIPS innovator profile and your related cognitive styles? Click here to register and buy a coupon for your TIPS online test now.
  • Would you be interested in doing an experiential, eye-opening TIPS training course with your team? Or learn how to use the tools in our X-IDEA toolbox in an X-IDEA training?
  • Contact us to tell us more about yourself and how we may help you. 

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2019. The article is published in the Thinkergy Blog on December 5, 2019. It will be re-printed in the Bangkok Post on December 12, 2019.