Thinking tools explained

Thinking tools explained

How different personality types will shine at different stages of an innovation project. By Detlef Reis

During the past 15 years, I have designed and facilitated more than 150 innovation project workshops. One thing I have noticed is the following: depending on their personality and preferred cognitive styles, different people tend to enjoy using different types of thinking tools during the creative process.

Thanks to TIPS, the innovator profiling tool developed by Thinkergy, I can tell in advance who is going to shine by working on a particular kind of thinking tool. Allow me to explain.

Suppose you're in charge of an innovation project. Wouldn't you be keen to know more about the personalities and preferred cognitive styles of each participant?

Knowing the innovator profiles of everyone involved enables you to compose teams that are cognitively diverse but balanced. It also allows you to understand who is likely to shine at what stage of the creative process. Last but not least, it allows you to accurately assign a specific thinking tool to those who have a natural affinity to apply it well.

TIPS uses four base orientations (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems) and four cognitive styles (to think, work, interact and live) to create one of 11 innovator profiles. What follows is a look at these innovator types and the thinking tools they delight in:

Theorists are logical, abstract thinkers who, above else, care about the truth. In an innovation project, let them work on critical thinking tools such as performing Fact Checks or Assumption Checks, checking for Rules For Fools, or probing for the Lowest Common Denominator related to the project challenge.

Conceptualisers are strategic big-picture thinkers who particularly shine in the first stage of an innovation project. They enjoy creating Trends & Discontinuities Maps or Strategic Road Maps. They also perform well when engaging in Situational Reframing. As well, they enjoy working on a Challenge Map used to identify the right level of abstraction to frame the final challenge (a crucial "how to" question used to generate ideas later in the project).

Ideators are progressive creators who enjoy pushing for bold, disruptive change. They tend to come up with wild, provocative ideas (courtesy of tools such as What If, Reversal, or Born To Be Wild). During evaluation, Ideators are also the most likely to throw in a Wild Card to push a disruptive idea concept that the more conservative majority rejects.

Promoters are charismatic communicators who connect ideas to people. They enjoy imaginative creativity tools such as Imagination Trips, Star Adviser Board, or My Superstar during Ideation. In the final process stage, Action, they lead the effort with thinking tools such as Storyboarding, Idea Pitch Designer and Idea Pitch.

Partners always want to be around others and care for the needs and desires of people. Hence, choose a few Partners to take an empathetic point of view on your case or to "walk a mile in the shoes" of key stakeholders involved in your challenge. And of course, they enjoy Brainstorming or playing Battle of the Sexes (during Ideation) and Ideabook (a more social way to do evaluation).

Organisers are the most operational and hands-on group. They naturally focus on the small pictures, and enjoy exploring all the details with the help of a questioning tool such as 5W1H. They also like to compile a Project Plan and a 5W2H Action Plan for actual implementation of an idea.

Systematisers like to preserve the status quo and dislike taking risks. In the first stage, assign them to work on a Strategic Risk Map or realistic Idea Evaluation Criteria. If involved in the creative stages, they prefer practical creativity tools such as Morphological Matrix and Get Real (used to tame a wild idea). During evaluation, they prefer "objective" tools such as the Weighted Scoring Model.

Use Technocrats to play The Numbers Game and check on the plausibility of key quantitative data. Later on during evaluation, they take pleasure in composing a Balance Sheet (such as listing all the assets and liabilities of an idea, as well as "below the line" items as possible contingencies).

Coaches are as rare as unicorns, so count yourself lucky if you have one on your team. Ask a philosophical, humanistic Coach to compile a list of thought-provoking X Questions to deeply and widely probe for the team's understanding of the case -- and its knowledge gaps.

Experimenters systematically test ideas. As they like to take things apart and reconfigure them anew, they embrace more formal ideation tools such as Attribute Listing or Relational Words. They're the first to roll up their sleeves when it's time for rapid prototyping of promising concepts.

Finally, as an innovation manager or facilitator, be grateful for any All-Rounders taking part in the project. These people have many interests and are the most balanced of all; you can have them work on any thinking tool that is left.

Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy, the "Know how to Wow" Innovation Company in Asia and beyond. He is also an assistant professor at the Institute for Knowledge & Innovation - Southeast Asia at Bangkok University, and an adjunct associate professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University. Email

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