Innovation Relationships 1

Day 191 Week 28 Q3 Tuesday, July 11, 2023

One would think that all innovators understand how dependent upon relationships they are; after all, all stakeholders require relationships. But no, not all people who want to be innovators actually become innovators. There is this adoption requirement for innovation. If no one uses your stuff, then know you are not an innovator, at least by my definition. Innovation seems to require scaling, whereas being a creative outlier does not. This is one of the differences between the two. Many entire classes of artists and inventors are introverts, more comfortable with their thoughts and materials than with people. People can get in the way when a creative outlier tries to manifest some meaning from their creative activities.  Computer scientists also fall into this category because many seem to be more comfortable with their computers than with people. This is very understandable. After all, it is much easier to create your own universe and then go live in it, in a computer, than out in the” real” world.

In order to discuss relationships, it is helpful to discuss what key roles are generally played in the innovation dance. The role played by the actual creative outlier on their way to becoming an innovator usually begins as an independent contributor, which used to be called a sole contributor. These people do not have any direct reports, meaning they do not manage anyone else. They do generally work for someone and in a matrixed organization, possibly many people. As they progress and demonstrate the abilities to be self-organizing, self-motivating and self connecting to others involved in their workflow. They can spend a lot of time alone as creativity does require gestation.

The relationship between the independent contributor and manager is very important, even if they are not in the same chain of command. First of all, it is likely that the manager began as an independent contributor and was promoted into management after demonstrating strong abilities in their prior position. Therefore they are both originally coming from the same place. There is also a lot of room for discord because they may have even competed for the same management position. This can be tricky to negotiate for a whole host of reasons, including perceived differences regarding value and compensation, leverage and importance, and rule following vs. flexibility.

Even though some tech companies have created parallel career-building promotion pathways, many do not, and those outside of the company’s culture may be even less so. When I went in my early twenties from a chief engineer of a small firm with many people to supervise to an independent contributor with no direct reports at a very large, much more prestigious firm, it was extremely confusing in terms of status. The first was a big fish small pond scenario, and the second was a little fish big pond situation.

Thinks about this first crucial relationship between those with possibly very different priorities./