people signals


talent leadership change innovation

Self-directed innovator

Yesterday I sat in a presentation and heard the target group of Google’s products. They call it the self-directed innovator – the new class of workers that transformed out of the Knowledge Worker of the 1980s and the Office Worker of the 1950s. Some of the characteristics of self-directed innovator:

– Not process driven
– Collaborates with broad network of friends and colleagues
– Intermingled personal and work lives
– Needs information even when not at her desk
– Tends not to be patient

Basically, self-directed innovators want to get a job done. They don’t want to be busy, but productive. This is a great attitude, but it poses some problems for organizations. These are usually run from a central command structure and try to manage the landscape through processes. But this excactly frustrates this new class of worker: feeding an organizational hunger for reporting and compliance. Big organizations don’t seem to be a good place for self-directed innovators.

What would need to change? I think we need a shift along the axis of control & accountability. With the focus on processes, organizations tend to be high in control and low on accountability (you are responsible for compliance and business). If an organization could focus more on high accountability and low on control (responsible for outcomes and value), then it would really move towards a „network of brains“. Too often, initiative is tied to titles and stiffles the creativity and ownerhsip of employees beyond their own cubicle. Anyway, without being too much rock’n’roll here I think Google is on to something.


Filed under: career, energy, ,

2 Responses

  1. Erik says:

    Wow, that sounds like me. Interestingly, now that you point out, I’m not specifically process driven, but I’m great at developing processes for other people (probably because it makes me more productive).

  2. Ed Brenegar says:

    I like the term “self-directed innovator” and the characteristics of this person. I have a lot of affinity for us.
    This seems similar to a thought that came to me a few years ago. I’ve been involved in leadership develop stuff for 25 years. I was never very happy with the ways that the experts characterized leadership, except Peter Drucker who wrote a lot about entrepreneurialism. One day it came to me that the core essential of leadership was personal initiative. Without someone taking initiative, there is no leadership of any kind. As a result, the whole issue of character in leadership moved to the forefront for me, and opened up for me a way to talk about leadership as something more than an organizational role, but a way that we can act in organizations.
    I’m still working on this notion, but it seems that if we educated people to be self-directed innovators we’d have a whole lot more leadership happening.
    Thanks for the best idea I’ve come across today.

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