What kind of innovator are you?


I reckon that there are 3 levels of contribution that people make to innovation. 

1. Those of us who believe we have no innovative bones in our body (which is totally untrue) and therefore our contribution is minimal. 

2.Those that come up with one idea once in a blue moon, which is good but we could be doing even more, and 

3. Those who come up with commercial ideas day in day out, which is fantastic.


What separates an individuals level of innovation contribution often comes down to one or two criteria. 

1. The individual hasn't learnt any innovation skills to apply 


2. The individual believes that they possess very little if any innovative ability (again which is totally untrue).


What can help us all to increase our level of innovation contribution is to get a handle of what kind of innovator we are and what innovation skills we already possess (and yes you do have some). If we can get more clarity on what our innovation tendencies are, we can utilise this to build on our strengths for the innovative projects we create. Better still, it enables us to utilise the innovative talents of othersworking on our team.

As you can imagine, any profiling tool is limited and flawed. Despite the flaws that come with any model, this profiling tool is not only fun but more importantly will help us realise that we already posses a number of innovative skills.

I have a number ofhobbies that keep me occupied in my spare time, and one of them is teaching oriental yoga. The oriental yoga I teach is based on the same principles that acupuncturists use in oriental medicine. What I've found is that for the 10 years that I've been teaching yoga and the 15 years of working in the world of commercial innovation, is that there is an uncanny similarity between the personality types that an acupuncturist classifies and the key innovation personalities I see in organisations around the world.

So let's find out what kind of Innovator you are.


There are 5 key elements and personality types in the field of acupuncture. 

They are:

1. Fire

2. Earth

3. Metal

4. Water

5. Wood


The Fire Innovator's five key attributes are:

1. Infectious energy - wherever you go, you create excitement and inspire others about your project

2. Fast thinking - ability to think on your feet and create idea with minimal preparation or background information

3. Problem solving - ability to deconstruct problems and create multiple solutions quickly and effectively

4. Opportunity Hunter - If there's an opportunity to seize, you'll find it and start innovating to acquire it (even if you don't know you're doing it)

5. Social Seeker - You get energised by being with others, and like the idea of contributing to a group cause. You love sharing your ideas and suggestions

The Earth Innovator's five key attributes are:

1. Practicality - you're the realist and grounded personality who knows when to pull things in. While you don't want to rain on other peoples parades, you know when a project will work or not.

2. What's in it for me? - Your selective about the innovative projects you want to work on, if there's something that interests you, you're in, if not, you're not quite willing.

3. Reinvention expert -  you have a practical knack for turning something ordinary into the extraordinary and making the old new

4. Adaptable to change - change comes easily for you, while others baulk at the slightest whiff of a change, you're actively seeking change and adapt accordingly

5. Supportive & communicative - a great communicator, with the ability to express yourself.  With a supportive focus you're a contributor to others ideas, not a destroyer of their ideas.

The Metal Innovator's five key attributes are:

1. Sharpness - your intellectual sharpness allows you to see what's really going on and define the root cause of a problem

2. Combination - ability to bring components from totally separate areas and bring them together to create totally new innovations

3. Decisiveness - being quick to work out what 'not to do' and what 'to do' make you an effective decision maker

4. Concentration - laser like focus, ability to shut out everything and focus on the task at hand

5. Desire for action - not willing to be idle, you dislike small talk and believe in the motto 'clarity follows action'

The Water Innovator's five key attributes are:

1. Resourcefulness - limited budget and several constraints is your thing. You have an innate ability to innovate using whatever tools, elements and resources are at hand

2. Hindsight - with a great memory, you revel in knowing the outcomes of previous projects and applying the key learnings key to your current situation

3. Wisdom seeker - always asking your self, what am I learning from this? How can I apply this elsewhere?

4. Introspective - You prefer your own company above others, and your best thinking comes on your own

5. Contingency thinker - you worry about the details and therefore create back up plans for every conceivable problem

The Wood Innovator's five key attributes are:

1. Growth & improvement junkie - a 'Kai Zen' continual improvement believer. For the wood innovator and 'Kai Zen' devotee there is no such thing as perfection, only continual improvement

2. Discipline - you excel at creating processes that help people keep on track, on time and on task 

3. Planning - you deeply understand the need for a plan and how to co-ordinate with others

4. Vision and foresight - ability to anticipate what the market needs and the direction you need to take

5. Challenger  - you're not afraid of challenging the status quo for yourself and for others. Your ambition makes meeting challenges 'head on', a game you love to play

Through experience I have found that we tend to have one dominant innovation personality and one supportive personality piece. Once you have identified some traits that seem indicative of your own personality, this can help you to not only tap into your own strengths but the strengths of others as well. 

Here's how you can tap into the strength of other innovators to help your cause. Say for example if you've been working on a project by yourself and you're  predominantly a water innovator, then chances are you might be thinking about the tiny details too much and ignoring the big picture. This is when it's good to get an opinion from a wood innovator (someone who has good foresight) to ascertain what they think of the direction of your project.

If you're a predominant Earth innovator and are good at using all the resources at hand, you might find you have a tendency to use just what's in front of you, rather than think further a field. Finding a  metal innovator and asking for suggestions of what other elements you could combine to your project idea can help to give you some new insights that will complement your resourcefulness.

I'm sure you get the gist of how to further use this profile tool.



Nils Vesk

Innovation Architect

Innovation speaker