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Four Types of Innovators at the Idea Factory – Which Are You?

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“Eureka!” exclaimed Archimedes when he stepped into a tub of water.  

The great ancient mathematician suddenly understood the volume of water displaced equals the volume of the object submerged.  Eureka is Greek for “I found it.  

Entrepreneurs know well the thrill of a Eureka moment.   But entrepreneurs also know the frustration when new ideas are elusive.   In my journey as an entrepreneur, sometimes I am swimming in a creative torrent and other times I am arid like Arabian wadi.

Archimedes' Eureka moment and early innovation
A 16th century woodcut of Archimedes‘ eureka moment

The Idea Factory

My last dry spell lasted several years.  Then, I had the good fortune to teach a course on Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina in Asheville, where I live.  Through dialogue with young, passionate students, I rediscovered my hidden factory for idea generation, and I learned a few lessons that may help others bring their Idea Factory on-line.

I certainly adhere to conventional wisdom that ideas can come from anywhere and when you least expect it.  I am a firm believer in writing ideas down when they come to you.  And, I love the Idea Napkin as a tool to help form an idea while the iron is hot.  But these tools are not enough for many of us. 

What is Your Type?

Teaching that course in entrepreneurship taught me two lessons on idea generation. 

The first lesson is that understanding your approach to idea generation can unleash your creative genius. The workforce at an Idea Factory can be grouped into four categories based on your passions and you world view.  See the matrix below. 

What is your job at the Idea Factory:  are you a Visionary, Hero, Dreamer, or Fixer?    Lets go through the types of employees at an Idea Factory one by one.

There are four types of innovators in the idea generation matrix. Which type are you: visionary; hero, dreamer, or fixer?
There are Four Types of Innovators at the Idea Factory
  • The Fixer.   The Fixer sees what is wrong with the world and is passionate about creating products to solve problems.   For example, a friend and mentor of mine, Jerry Barber is a life-long inventor.  Like many of us, Jerry despises speedbumps.   He solved his problem by inventing and patenting a speed bump that compresses if one drives over it slowly.
  • The Hero. The hero sees what is wrong with the world, but his inspiration is people.   One of my students, Asante Monadjemi, sees the prevalence of judgment and even racism in our society.  He was inspired to launch a company, ONEPEOPLE, which uses product messaging to help bridge cultural differences.
Organic Transits Famous Elf, the most efficient vehicle on the planet
  • The Dreamer.   The Dreamer appreciates what is working in the world and loves improving products to make them even better.   Rob Cotter of Organic Transit built on the strengths of bicycles and solar technology to build to world’s most efficient vehicle on the planet.
  • The Visionary. The Visionary’s idea is born from what is right with the world and her passion for people.   For this example, let’s go to the Middle East, where Asma Ahmad’s love of people and food inspired her creative business to bring people together.    Her company, Zaha “provides an opportunity to connect and engage with people from other cultures, through co-created food experiences and storytelling.”

Understanding this matrix and which quadrant reflects your thinking processes may help you develop more and better ideas.  When I reflect on my story as an entrepreneur, my innovation type is Visionary, and knowing this is helpful when I need to gear up my own Idea Factory.

Here is one more example:  Tony Xu, the CEO of Doordash, a restaurant food delivery company, reported that his professor at Stanford suggested that he identify what community of people inspired him as the first step to generate a business idea (listen to the podcast, How I Built This with Guy Raz, 11-12-2018).  Tony was passionate about the food service industry because his mother owned a restaurant.  He was motivated to create new markets for restaurants, which eventually led him and his partners to launch their company.   DoorDash was born out Tony’s perspective as a Visionary, the first quadrant of the idea factory. 

The four types of employees at the Idea Factor are all equal partners in innovation.   One group is not better than the other, and your type depends on your personal style and philosophy.  You are not locked into one category.   You might come to work as a Hero on one day, but be a Dreamer another day.   

The Community of Innovation

But there is one more lesson that helps no matter your approach to innovation.  This final lesson is the value of community in the idea generation process.  

Last fall, in my entrepreneurship class, we did a root cause analysis or fish- bone diagram on an issue of great passion among the 13 students in the class.  Here was the problem that the students wanted to address:  students are chronically poor.

We brainstormed the reasons for this common challenge.  And, as suggested by the root cause analysis exercise, we asked “why” at least 5 times to dig deeper and deeper towards the source of the problem.  The dialogue generated a number of intriguing ideas that could be used to launch real companies. 

Although the fishbone diagram was a useful tool, the real magic of that exercise was a trusting community.    We brainstormed, shared outrageous suggestions, built on each other’s ideas, laughed and had fun.   And that was just the right set of ingredients to make our Idea Factory shine.   

Entrepreneurship is a level long enough to move the world.

Leverage to Move the World

Archimedes reminds us that ideas can come from anywhere at anytime.   What makes entrepreneurs special is that they have the gift and discipline to recognize a Eureka moment, write it down, and take action.

One of Archimedes greatest contributions to humanity is his insight into the mathematics of the lever, one of the simplest and most import of tools.   Archimedes understood the power of leverage to get things done.

Archimedes famously said:  “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I can move the world.”

I believe that entrepreneurship is a very long lever indeed, and the more that we can empower entrepreneurs to dream and innovate, the more they can create a prosperous and interconnected world. 

Michael Shore
Author: Michael Shore

Michael is passionate about creating a sustainable planet and supporting entrepreneurial companies. His loves his work the most when he can do both at the same time.

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