The Innovator Spectrum

Innovative behavior is found within individuals who work in all walks of life, as it is a most basic human response to adapt to circumstances. This is the largest differentiator between people and other life forms, the degree to which we can adapt. We are so powerful at adapting that we also adapt our circumstances to fit our needs and desires. This innovation response is innate in humans of all ages, on every continent and both genders.

However it is not generally found in equal measure in all places, situations and circumstances and this is quite reasonable for innovation is not always an appropriate response. Sometimes tried and true responses are more beneficial to the organism whether it be a nation, a business  or an individual.

It is because of the very wide range of conditions people find themselves in that innovative behavior can reasonably vary so very much in frequency and strength. To shrink this range to one that is manageable we are addressing different professions conduciveness to innovation but before doing so noting the tendency for younger entities to innovate more than older entities. Children take more chances than adults. Young companies take more chances than mature ones.  A newly formed nations have more degrees of freedom than established ones. Innovation appears to be something that most of us unlearn.

There are professions that are more accepting and more requiring of innovation than other ones where it is generally agreed a more conservative approach serves us all with better results. Although innovation behavior can not really be arranged linearly, for purposes of brevity we are simplifying this characterization of innovation vitality.

Beginning at the end of the spectrum where there are enormous degrees of freedom available to practitioners we have performance artists. If the slowest average tempo for music is 60 beats per minute and performers rarely initiate less than one note per beat on average, the duration of each note event is only one second. During a 90 minute jazz performance (5400 seconds) an musician would play (initiate) a minimum of 5400 separate note events and in most cases performances include far more than this. This makes the importance of adhering to playing any given note the same way every time not very great. In fact as jazz is an improvised art form, one would be penalized for playing every note in the manner that was expected. Improvisers are expected to continually stream innovation in the form of trying new combinations of notes, harmonies and rhythms almost constantly. This is a profession in which innovation is not only acceptable but absolutely required.

At the opposite end of the spectrum lies an administrator of a very mature society or company where the expectations of the population being served is to not be surprised. The degrees of freedom constraining such a person are very small and reasonably so. We do not want the garbage to be picked up on Sunday at 2:37 AM when we thought it was being picked up on Wednesday at 7:30 AM. We would not know when to take it out to the curb. Businesses and municipalities demand high degrees of predictability and art demands relatively higher degrees of surprise.  In short we do not expect the same amount of surprise from our accountant or doctor as we do from a chef or performer.

The difference has to do with emotional engagement which tends to expect a different predicability to surprise ratio than intellectual engagement which tends to desire more predictability and less surprise. There are many fields that would not be recommended to overly emotional people and there also many fields that would not be recommended to one with a stringently analytical persona. Of course to some degree all of us have more than one mode of operation but most people have characteristics that tend to push us in specific directions. And yes we also can change over our lives and even during a single day or for some form minute to minute. Those that change from minute to minute would not run for president. Those that change over years not seconds, should not audition for jazz bands.

In gross terms we expect our leaders to be predictable and our lawyers to codify and memorialize rules we can count on so we can adhere to them. The ten commandments come to mind as having a very long run. People have felt it reasonable to subordinate themselves to these for millennia. We also expect people in the art and in ad agencies and marketing to surprise and delight  us.  Do our leaders sometimes surprise and delight us? Occasionally but mostly they disappoint us because we do not want them to detour from what they said they would do when we elected them or hired them.

It all has to do with what time constant is being operated upon. At we looking at seconds, hours, months or years. For some people planning their life more than open week at a time is totally impossible and for some going to a restaurant and ordering something new because what was desired is unavailable is extremely unwelcome.

There is not right or wrong, there is just a range just as ultraviolet is at one end of the visible electromagnetic spectrum with red at the other. It does not mean red is better than blue or yellow or green. We have a lot of colors and we also have a lot of kinds of innovator behavior.

If you want to improvise you had better not become a ballerina or anything else that expects you to do exactly and precisely what everyone expects. If you want no surprises there are many fields that would be unsuitable.

The places where creativity is most at home are the ones where someone can create their own world and then go live in it. Composers can create their open music and then go play it, computer programmers can create their own computer language and write programs in it. Video game coders can create their open us inverse and go live in it. Now all of these people can also bring others with them into their worlds as well and in order to be classified as an innovator not just a creator they need to.

Unfortunately those who are skilled at insight are not necessarily skilled at completion and vice-a-versa. This is why teams are generally needed for innovation to be adopted. Or even if there is a one person team, that person has to change modes of operation to accomplish the set of tasks required for their insight to be applied in the real world.

There is a psychological shrift that has to occur when changing modes and it can be unconscious for those lucky enough to smoothly flow from one set of tasks to another or it require or create huge upheaval in a persons state of mind to shift those gears.

Most research never makes it into products, most books that are began are not published, starting and finishing do not rehire the same skill set.  Accomplished people have to be capable of chaining these gears, to pay bills, take out trash and cook dinner. Even those of us who are leveraged are genially not born that way.

Being conscious of the innovation spectrum helps one to engage appropriate parties.