Deep and wide, deep and wide
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.
The Sunday school song lyrics pretty much sum up the next two personas in Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. Last week I talked about Kelley’s favorite persona, The Anthropologist. This week I would like to introduce you to The Experimenter and The Cross-Pollinator. These two personas seem very different from one another at first, but they do have some interesting commonalities.
The Experimenter persona reflects someone who loves to prototype. This persona is optimistic, unafraid of failure, and not particularly invested in a single idea because they are interested in breaking new ground. Failure is simply a step in the process of creating a better idea than the one that failed. Therefore, every failure is a chance to learn something and move forward. And IDEO has learned that the most important part about success is that you must fail many times to reach an innovative goalIt is easy to see how The Experimenter can be a very valuable asset when trying to make a breakthrough on a daunting project.
Because failure is built into the process, The Experimenter has an uncanny ability to maintain optimism in the face of failure.
One of Kelley’s keen insights gleaned from The Experimenter persona is the courage it takes to not invest in a prototype until you have the very best one. The Experimenter persona doesn’t take the time and resources to fully tackle a so-so idea, only to see it fail. Instead, the persona will “pull a MacGyver,” if you will. (If not, here is a link to who the heck McGyver is and how he pulls things!) In essence, MacGyver solved problems with scavenged items, and he had a huge breadth of knowledge from various disciplines that allowed him to prototype quick inventions to get out of tight situations. The Experimenter does just that for the innovation team.
Speaking of huge depth of knowledge, the next persona also has a wide breadth of many subjects.
The Cross-Pollinator persona draws from their knowledge base to connect seemingly unrelated subjects in order to create or improve upon an idea.
The Cross-Pollinator is what Kelley calls a T-shaped person. They have a wide breadth of knowledge supported by deep knowledge of a particular subject. If you think of the lovable qualities of the bumble bee, then you have a pretty accurate description of the aptly name Cross-Pollinator. Usually, they have travelled widely and seen many variety of places and ways of being. They are willing to witness a place with a fresh outlook in order to spy beautiful ideas. They take these ideas back to their group and used them to inform the project. As Kelley describes them, The Cross-Pollinator “tirelessly spreads the seeds of innovation (89).
Like The Experimenter persona, having a Cross-Pollinator on your team can help the group maintain their optimism in the face of a difficult innovation task. Perhaps you’ve perused the Reddit subcategory, “Explain it Like I’m Five?” Well, first of all, that sub-reddit is chock-full of simplified profound thoughts, and second, The Cross-Pollinator persona has the ability to break down difficult tasks and information into something understandable. Similar to The Anthropologist, they are students of humanity and teachers as well.
At IDEO, their innovation groups are made up of these kind of resilient, deep thinkers. The Experimenter and The Cross-Pollinator personas come from all sorts of eclectic backgrounds, often within the same person! In fact, IDEO seeks out unusual applicants, with deep knowledge in one area and wide free-flowing facts in many areas. From this diverse group, flows fountains of innovative ideas.