Innovation and Personality Types

How come that upper middle managers and entrepreneurs look at things in different ways? The answer lies partly in their personality types. It is known that certain personality types work better in certain situations than other. This is also valid for the innovation area, as Bengt Järrehult describes below.

Do you recognize the following situation? You come to your boss and you have the most splendid idea. You have even made a sales forecast showing the value of it, but unfortunately what you have is the traditional hockey-stick (or rather bandy-stick) curve, indicating that the sales start to show result first after say 2 years, better by year 3, and by year 4 you have a straight curve pointing directly at the sky (Fig 1a, red curve). Your boss then says “Look at this green curve I draw (Fig 1b.) If you do not have a performance similar to this where you reach high sales after 1 year – forget about it! This curve signifies the sales development of our last big launch and why should I go for less?”

Forget what you compare with and forget that you see things in different ways

What you both forget about is that you are looking at 2 different S-curves (Fig 1c). Your boss has forgotten about the earlier 4 years and you have not thought of that even your splendid idea will level out after 6-7 years. What you both also have not realized is that you look at the same thing but you see it in 2 different ways. Your brain and your boss’ brain are wired totally differently. Your boss’ brain probably is dominated by talents to control and manage (that is, by the way, why he is the manager and not you) and you are dominated by your talent to see the visionary potential of things (that is, by the way, why you are the entrepreneur and not him)

In the right hand part of the fig 1 above, you see two colored circles depicting this. It is the HBDI circle (Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument) where the Boss’ brain is the upper one with the major activities in the blue and green area and your brain, mainly active in the yellow area. The meaning of the 4 colors in the circle you see in the picture to the right.

Finding the optimal place for each personality type

Peter Robertson is a Belgian-American management consultantas well as a psychologist and he means that there are various types of leadership profiles that are optimal at different part of the S-curve. He uses an analog to the HBDI system, but I have translated it to HBDI as this is much more common and known.

  • Design a new future: First you need the Visionary style (yellow) to that only sees the possibilities
  • Upscale: The next style is much more balanced, still with a preference for Vision and People (yellow and red)
  • Operate: Then it comes into more operational skills in the very expansive phase that follows after the bandy-stick curve. This demands a very well balanced leadership (all 4 colors)
  • Think timely about the next curve: When the curve starts to level out you need to think timely about the next curve to come, and Logics and Control (blue and green) over technology and costs pays off. Preferably still with a hint of Vision (yellow)
  • Squeeze profit out of existing curve: After this you would like to prolong the expansive part of the existing curve, which you do with Logics and Control (blue and green) but a minimum of people and visionary (red and yellow) focus, exactly the opposite to what was needed as prerequisites at the beginning of the S-curve…. no wonder why these 2 types are antipodes to each other, hindering understanding of a common view
  • Downsize creatively: Sooner or later the sunny times are over and inevitably the business start to decline. At this stage you need to focus on Control (green) with some Logics (blue) too
  • Transform: When you are forced to jump from an old S-curve to a new, thereby transforming the company, you need to have great skills in People (red) Management
  • Design a new future – again: Finally when you then start a new S-curve, you start all over again with the Visionary style……

Peter Robertson refers to all this as “Always change a winning team”. It shows that you need to have both the right profile at the right place and at the right time. One misfit – and you have problems.

In order to succeed all the way through the S-curve we do need the whole range of skills and acceptance of the usability of them all –but do we really value and foster all the profiles in our companies???

The HBDI method is one way to look at this. Another is to use the good old Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test (MBTI). Here the analog to the Boss’ brain would be ISTJ (Introvert, Sensing, Thinking and Judging)and the visionary entrepreneur’s brain would be ENTP or INTP (Introvert or Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking and Perceiving). There is an article by Greg Stevens and James Burley called “Piloting the Rocket of Radical Innovation” where they show that by choosing the right MBTI profile for those involved in the first phase of a radical innovation project, you increase the chance of success with 95 times!!!

Where do you fit into the S-curve?

By Bengt Järrehult

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About the author

Bengt Järrehult is Fellow Scientist Innovation at SCA, a global hygiene products and paper company. He is also adjunct professor and visiting professor resp. at 2 departments of Lund University in Sweden. He is an avid reader of and presenter on the topics of innovation, especially on breakthrough innovation and the psychological hurdles that exist to achieve this, hurdles that we may or may not be aware of. He is of the opinion that most companies more or less know what to do to become more innovative. What they don’t know is what really hinders them from doing these measures…

Photo: Female executive drawing results from



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