How Style Affects How You Innovate [Yes! And Blog #141]

Innovative Styles

How using different styles effectively can  enhance innovation…

One of the activities I use at the start of innovation workshops or team workshops, is the cane activity (or “Get Caned” as I call it). This involves having two equal size teams either side of a long cane (I use a foldable tent pole) with the cane resting on each person’s index fingers. They must lower the cane to the floor from waist height, keeping their fingers on the cane at all times.

This sounds very easy; if I say that groups usually take “five minutes plus” on their first run and are often standing on tip toes at times, you can sense it might not be. I give teams three attempts at it and usually they can reduce the time to less than a minute (the record being 25 seconds in my classes).

Apart from being a useful team building exercise, I use it to bring out lessons about creativity and innovation. In the debriefing, one key lesson that emerges is about the different styles people have to tackle the challenge.

Some are obvious; those who focus completely on the outcome and go for it, immediately shouting instructions seeking to use their intuition to work it out. Others want to break the rules “just drop it!”

Some people are more experimental, “Let’s try this… that didn’t work, try this…” The rest observe how others do it and replicate what works.

There is often frustration and the biggest lesson is that people tackle challenges in different ways (their style) and the team must listen and collaborate if they going to achieve the required outcome in a reasonable time. It’s the same for innovation.


There are a number of innovation style profiles, (Kirton, Basadur and Miller are three) but rather than have an academic discussion (click on the names to find that), I thought I would put a different spin on it.

I have created four  (styles) to parade in the corporate “jungle”, if I may use that as a metaphor for this article. As I say often, all leaders can be creative, so think of these styles as sub species of leaders! I have not sought to make the style descriptions academically rigorous, I  have based them on my knowledge of the various styles profiles and on observation in innovation workshops, rather they are intended to show the differences you will notice. I have also sought to avoid using terms that might judge people.


These people intuitively like to sense new opportunities, detect whether they are worthwhile and create the big picture. Once they have created this vision, they focus on getting the results.  They might not fully appreciate the difficulties involved, may overlook detail and not consider all the options.

Metaphorically, they envisage reinstating the lost hectares of the African rainforest, but could get stuck in a ravine.


Observers like to build on what is there, to adapt existing solutions. They make decisions based on facts, are focused and want results in short term steps. They are cautious about ideas they consider too radical and will tend to accept the existing rules and assumptions.

Metaphorically they may grow a taller tree and deliver it on time but find the competitors have beaten them to it.


Adventurers , can see the big picture and like to consider all the options. They love radical ways to achieve the goal, challenging the rules and convention. Risk takers, but not always wisely, they sometimes get preoccupied with ideas rather than results.

Metaphorically they may end up at the destination on a zip wire but could get lost in the jungle.


Experimenters  like to develop ideas in a systematic and thorough way. They will combine ideas from many people, follow every step of a structured technique to squeeze out a practical idea and will thoroughly evaluate it. However, they may get too focussed on the process of research and lose sight of creating novel ideas.

Metaphorically they might create a mahogany tree that grows 4 x 4 planed branches, but find the delivery boat has sailed before they deliver it.


Despite my lighthearted descriptions, there are some serious points to raise here:

  • Different styles working together can lead to frustration and a lack of collaboration. As creative leaders it is your task to minimise the frustration and encourage and facilitate that collaboration. To achieve this in workshops I build the microclimate to get people collaborating, point out these differences in style and ask people to defer judgement
  • Each person has a unique blend of the different styles. Yes there are some who might strongly favour one style, just as some people will only play tennis or football or rugby or… beach volleyball. However, most will have a strong secondary preference and a few will happily play all of them
  • Most people can cope with using other styles, though as this takes more effort they are likely to revert to their preferred one. Remember this when you are asking a group of fact loving people to use a very intuitive technique at the end of a tiring workshop.


Try and identify your colleagues from the descriptions! If you can you think of your own names for the  styles.

To Close

I was chatting to a blog reader yesterday and discussing the idea of styles. We agreed how important it is to give practical experience of using creative thinking tools in a safe environment for those people who:

  • Believe they are not creative
  • Are less convinced by creative tools

Every opportunity you can give your people to use techniques for creative thinking will help them to be able to flex their style.

John Brooker I Yes! And. Think Innovatively.

To receive regular articles, register at our website: and receive Section 1 of John’s book, “Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate”, with our compliments. We guarantee not to share your details. Or you might buy John’s book at Amazon now: “Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate.” 

Read: and Facebook

Talk: +44 20 8869 9990

Write: [email protected]