Why Understanding People is the Key to Innovation

By Ron Price

As Dr. Evans Baiya and I were researching innovation for our book, The Innovator’s Advantage, we came upon an astounding statistic: 85-93% of all innovations fail! We wanted to know why, so we dove deeper, using research and our years of experience helping companies with innovation and development. 

And we discovered one commonality: Leaders did not understand the role their people played in the success or the failure of innovation.

Most leaders fail at this important step because they use only their intuition when organizing their teams. But there is so much more available today to understand people and what they bring to a team! Many people don’t recognize how far the science of talent has advanced and the information they could have at their fingertips, if they only took the time to set the stage. 

Spring Training
Setting a company up for innovation and creating an innovative culture is very similar to pre-season training in sports. When you’re in the game, there is no time for measurement and team building. The pace of the game dictates constant action. 

This is why the season starts early for the coach and the players—so that they can work on their teamwork and be in a position to excel when they actually get in the game. 

Just as each member of a football team has a position to play, so to do the people on your innovation team. When leaders take the time to organize their teams around strengths and teach them how to use their skills to work together toward shared results, this “spring training” makes a real difference when it’s game time.  Think about today’s football teams—they are organized into sub teams during practices to focus on the unique contributions made by offense and defense, then further into the various skills and assignments, such as offensive line, defensive line, quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, and so on.  There is a great deal of specialization to optimize the strengths and skills in each position.

Typically leaders are in such a hurry to innovate that they don’t realize that going fast will actually slow things down. And slowing down—taking the time to build a team and to take the team through preseason practice—is actually going to speed things up. If you take these steps, then you will innovate with much more focus and clarity.

It all starts with assessing the members of your team to discover their strengths and where they will best perform in the innovation continuum.  (For a detailed roadmap of the six stages in the innovation continuum, read, “The Innovator’s Advantage: Revealing the Hidden Connection Between People and Process”.

Measuring Skills and Talent for Innovation
Talent is the recurring patterns that people bring to their work, without having to consciously think about it. It can be broken down into three aspects: 

Thought—the natural recurring patterns of thought, or judgment
Motivation—the degree and nature of interest in a given initiative  
Behavior—how people deal problems and opportunities, seek to influence others, react to the pace of change and risk, and respond to rules and procedures created by others. 

Most managers tend to judge talent based on a person’s ability to get tasks completed or relate to other people. But those outcomes are actually a result of skills they have developed, not the underlying talent.

Skills are abilities that do not come naturally; they are aptitudes that have been learned. We all understand that technical skills must be learned, but so too must leadership skills. Skills can be divided into four categories: thinking, achieving, relating and technical. When we properly align skills with job requirements, they will optimize natural talents and net results. 

A strength is mastery of a skill has reached the level that it has almost become second nature (sometimes it’s hard to discern between skills and talent because it has become so effortless). Strengths are the ability to do something repeatedly over and over again, near perfection.

When you align your skills training with your already present talent, then you will see accelerated results. Leaders who use assessment tools can organize people to higher degrees of predictable success. If you learn to organize around people’s strengths, the innovation process becomes natural. This is why we offer four different assessments to help you evaluation your, and your team, for innovation. Learn more at TheInnovatorsAdvantage.com.