How to Build Enduring Innovation
I believe enduring innovations, both products and ideas that genuinely make life better, require a triad of Thinkers, Feelers, and Doers.
Most innovations start with a Thinker with an idea that takes advantage of a big opportunity or addresses a genuine problem. Since the Thinker knows the innovation model requires the triad, she will share the idea first with a Feeler.
"What do you think?" she asks the Feeler. "Do you think people need this? Would they want this now or at some other point in time? Could they want it soon enough to be an attractive investment based on risk and required effort versus return?"
If the Feeler thinks the idea has potential, the two will share it with a Doer.
They ask the Doer:
"Can you help us make this?"
"How long will it take to bring this to market?"
"What will it cost to build it?"
"Will it make enough money to attract capital?"
If the Doer sees a potential enduring innovation, they're off to the races.
The TFD Triad and the Innovation Journey
The Thinker-Feeler-Doer (TFD) triad then sets out on a journey to turn the idea into reality:
- The Thinker with the vision
- The Feeler with a sense of why other people will want this and how it can be marketed and sold
- The Doer with the confidence that she knows the math associated with how to cost-effectively build it and deliver it within an acceptable time frame
The better TFD triads set off on an innovation journey together. They understand that one of the most rewarding parts of innovating is getting from here to there. They thrive on the joy of the value-creation process.
Let's imagine what happens if the Doer is the one who brainstorms the idea and just does it.
She thinks, "I have this brilliant idea," and goes to work on it by herself. Time passes, and hardly anyone buys what she is selling. She understands the math associated with how to build it. She has the means (e.g., capital, time and more) to bring it to market. But she fails to involve the other two other triad members. She wastes time and money building something a reasonable Thinker may have deemed foolish, and an insightful Feeler may have deemed uninteresting — a tragic end to what could have been something grand, something enduring.
TFD Triad Proof Test
In my opinion, most innovations and other creations require Thinkers, Feelers and Doers, three unique personas working together to bring them to market. I've also become quite cynical of any idea that does not stand the proof test of the TFD triad.
More specifically, I see many ideas that initially look attractive. When put to the test of the marketplace, where cost and benefits are objectively measured, and demand tested, these once attractive ideas prove themselves to be merely aspirational.
When I was a teenager living in London during the 1970s, I found a quote inside the cover of a book on punk rock fashion that reads, "Every man loves the smell of his own farts." Crude? Possibly. But I think this bathroom humor is extraordinarily instructive when it comes to ideas.
The Enneagram of Personality
While some of us may be great Thinkers, deep Feelers or amazing Doers, few of us are great at all three, IMO. This is just one of the reasons we need and enjoy being with others as social creatures.
Look at the careers of people like Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs and talk to any well-known innovators of today like Jeff Bezos. You'll find strong respect for the importance of collaboration, trial and error, getting things wrong, failure and adjusting to it in all their accomplishments. Maybe it's what motivates them.
I'm fascinated with personality assessments and how many of them provide an interesting glimpse into what motivates us, how we like to Work and solve problems and what our individual communication preferences look like. One of the personality assessments I'm intrigued by is the Enneagram of Personality. If you haven't looked into it, you should. Its history alone is fascinating.
I bring it up because one of the Enneagram's core ideas is that nine unique personality types occupy three Centers called the Thinking Center, the Feeling Center and the Instinctive Center, i.e., thinkers, feelers and doers. Most versions of the Enneagram emphasize the importance of our primary and secondary motivations. To me, this indicates that it's unlikely we are deeply motivated by and talented in all three Centers, although there are always exceptions.
What I Can't Unsee
Someone told me years ago that there are ideas that, once learned, cannot be unlearned. These are the ideas that change the way we see the world. Once we see them, we cannot unsee them.
I cannot unsee the TFD triad. I believe it takes Thinkers, Feelers and Doers to bring to life enduring innovations that genuinely make life better. And I think no one is great at being all three.
Just as importantly, I believe we are all prone to certain biases (a future essay series) and blind spots, for lack of a better description. The consequence is that even if we were great at each of the three core ingredients of innovation, we'd still have an extraordinarily high probability of failing miserably.
Nurture The Three Dimensions of Our Being
While I don't believe we are all great at everything, I do think a life lived fully requires us to nurture all three of these dimensions of our being: our ability to think (exercising our brain), feel (loving life and the Work we do) and do (taking care of our physical selves and just enjoying the process of Work). This is just one of the many reasons I believe Work should be part of life for as long as possible. Continuing this nurture enables us to create. That means we push on as long as possible to make life better and better, not just for ourselves but for those around us.
To say it another way, if we continue to create things that genuinely make life better, it's almost certain that we will continue to enjoy life.
Rock on (sorry, I couldn't come up with a good punk-rock-related closer).
About the Author
Mark Abbott is the founder of Ninety.io and a sought-after business leader, writer, and executive team coach. With nearly four decades of experience with early-stage, small and mid-sized companies as a lender, investor and business builder, his passion centers on helping people build extraordinarily productive, humane, and resilient companies.