Deep and Wide: Reflection No. 4

manu-schwendener-37139Photo by manu schwendener on Unsplash

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. 

9 thoughts on “Deep and Wide: Reflection No. 4

  1. Joy,

    I sure would like to have more qualities of an Experimenter! It takes a unique mindset to be unafraid of failure and to have the optimism to pick back up, dust your shoulders off and move on. The fear of failure can be a real paralysis to the point where one may not even be willing to try anything at all. Then, they may end up feeling like a failure anyway because they never tried anything. What a vicious cycle that must be. I would have to say that I am not totally afraid of failure, however, I’ve noticed that when I do fail I tend to move in a drastically different direction rather than making a little tweak to get back on the path I was on before.

    The Cross Pollinator sounds like they would mesh well with the Experimenter. The Experimenter could be the one to come up with the big, bold ideas and the Cross Pollinator can help everyone else make sense of the idea as well as navigate them through the complexity and change. I got a kick out of your “explain it like I’m five” link. Honestly, there is usually always an easier way to explain something. Being clear and concise is indeed a talent that not everyone possesses!

    Thanks for sharing this interesting information.



  2. Joy,

    I found Kelley’s topics in this section very interesting. I actually analyzed both types of persona’s you mentioned and decided on which one I considered myself.

    If I would consider myself either an experimenter or a cross-pollinator I would say I would qualify more as an experimenter. In my current journey in the hospitality industry, I have failed numerous times, in numerous situations, but keep pushing on. In order to succeed, you must fail. I see failure as just another learning step. I know I will fail sometimes in my job, and in life, but I know that failure will just be another learning opportunity. If I fail once, I do not fail at that particular thing again. I would be a good team member when a group is pushing through a new breakthrough opportunity, because I understand failure.

    Which would you consider yourself?



  3. The experimenter persona is one I think I would take a liken too for myself to gain a new persona. This mindset is unique and I think that everything you presented was really awesome.

    Your writing ability is great! I must say that the construct of your blogs is admirable and is refreshing to see. I find myself writing more articles that doesn’t feel as personal as how you write your blogs. I think that one is not necessarily better than the other but I truly admire your writing style.


  4. Joy,

    I always love reading your reflections! I might need to read this book later. I am DEFINITELY an experimenter, without a doubt. I wouldn’t say I am afraid of failure – but I do try and calculate potential pit falls – and I do make sure there is water in the pool before jumping (both literally and metaphorically) I’m currently in the process of building my first prototype and it’s been a fun process to see what works and doesn’t work. Its funny when you hypothesis and you’re COMPELTELY wrong – but it’s about figuring out your next steps and continuing to push forward. I would say sometimes you get self-doubt (natural and human nature) but being able to put your trust in the process and going into it knowing it may not work the way you planned always helps with that self-doubt that can sometimes be crippling.

    I look forward to your future reflections!



  5. Joy,
    I can relate a lot to these personas, thank you for sharing a little about them. I think some people just have a desire deep down to experiment and tinker with ideas, and innovative environments seem like the perfect place to do so.

    Your discussions on personas reminds me of the meyers-briggs 16 personality types psychometric scale. It is a very useful tool for identifying personality types based on measures 4 key metrics. If you have the time I highly recommend taking the personality test. The results are almost always spot on and provide good insight into a person’s abilities and motivations.

    Thanks for sharing,


    • Hi Zach!
      I took the Meyers-Briggs in college. I was INFP, which is apparently very rare. However, I feel like I have changed a lot since then. I am not nearly as shy, although just as introverted. I think I would have a different outcome at this point in my life. Perhaps I will take the test again soon.

      Last semester we also talked about StrengthFinder. This personality test is specifically for work environments. There is even one geared toward business in particular, so that you can judge how well your strengths will mesh with a potential co-founder or other important business ally. It’s all very interesting, isn’t it?


  6. Hey Joy,
    I really feel like I connect with the Cross Pollinator persona. I am a bit of a jack of all trades and I have seen first hand how it can be beneficial when it comes to thinking of solutions to problems. From personal experience, having a background in many different areas has allowed me to be a better leader because I can connect with a wider variety of people through shared common interests. In my current job I am able to excel because I can use past experiences to make things happen at a faster pace because I am not as naive to the way things work with video, equipment, travel, and event planning.

    Although the cross pollinator may not be able to do any one particular task extremely well, I think having a person like this on staff makes everyone else better because they can offer the support needed to accomplish almost anything.

    Thank you for sharing your reflection with us, I enjoyed learning from it!



  7. Great post Joy! It sounds like the learning persona is a safe haven for me in general. I really like The Cross-Pollinator. It is a characteristic I strive to have in the sense that people from all walks of life gravitate to you as a cross-pollinator. A good cross-pollinator will always remain relevant and wanted in life because of their ability to connect others. Many times when people need something that may not be tangible, they think of their cross-pollinator. The beauty of the cross-pollinator is that you are always at the table and can choose to stay or leave.


  8. Joy,
    This is such a well thought out reflection! While I was analyzing both the Cross-Pollinator and the Experimenter, I don’t believe that I could reference myself to just one or the other. I believe that I hold some characteristics of both personas. I do not mind failure because some of my past failures have taught me some of the most important life lessons. I also like to think of myself of someone who is knowledgeable about a lot of things, and I am always curious to learn more. I am a firm believer that some of the most successful teams come from individuals who are extremely skilled or knowledgeable in a certain area, and they combine those attributes into one to create a future with limitless opportunities.


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