Innovation starts with two self-assessments—one devastating, the other uplifting: what’s the worst part about yourself and the best part about yourself. Once you’ve really identified your greatest weaknesses and strengths, you can determine what kind of people you need to surround yourself with. Find people who are unlike you, who can push you to create the things you can’t on your own. The Innovation Code presents four dominant worldviews—the main opposing approaches to growth and creativity:

  1. the Artist
  2. the Engineer
  3. the Sage
  4. the Athlete

For all our individual complexity, we all have one overpowering identity. Innovating is about understanding the gifts of that identity but also about seeing its shortcomings so we can seek out the people who will make up for those shortcomings.

The two main forms of conflict are the ones between Artists and Engineers (over the size of innovation) and between Sages and Athletes (over the speed of innovation).

At different moments in the life cycle of an innovation initiative, different dominant worldviews must come out on top: Artists and Athletes are great at launching an innovation while Sages and Engineers can establish the long-term environment for sustaining an innovation.


Four-Step Process to Constructive Conflict

Practice constructive conflict by moving through four steps: 

  1. assemble a diversity of perspectives
  2. engage in the conflict
  3. establish a shared goal or vision
  4. construct hybrid solutions

The challenge is in resisting our normal impulses. Usually when it comes to conflict, we want to eliminate it or avoid it altogether. In the world of innovation, we need to not only dwell in it but also make it a regular part of our lives.


The Artist

Artists are radical visionaries who constantly want to try new things. They tend to work on several projects at the same time and can easily get distracted, but they ultimately incite meaningful change and take risks others would shy away from. They can grow by adding more structure to their projects, making priorities, and finding ways to work within the system.

The Artist’s Action plan

In the spirit of constructive conflict, let’s temper the pure creative energy of an Artist by thinking like the opposite—like an Engineer. To make your ideas and plans more viable, try converging and operationalizing the possibilities by asking the following CONTROL questions:

  • Credibility: How would we get credibility with stakeholders to pursue this idea?
  • Objective: What can we do to ensure that our decisions are based on facts?
  • Necessary: What can we do to pinpoint what is most important?
  • Time: What are the timelines for pursuing this idea?
  • Resources: What money and other resources are required to pursue this idea?
  • Order: What can we do to manage our project in the most efficient sequence?
  • Logic: What can we do to methodically think through our options


The Engineer

Reliable and logical, Engineers like to make things work very efficiently. They rely on processes and procedures to produce the highest quality products and services every time, everywhere. They can grow by reducing their tendency to pore over data and pushing themselves to seize an opportunity when it presents itself. The challenge is for Engineers to embrace their inner Artist and learn to be more comfortable with ambiguity and the unknown.

The Engineer’s Action Plan

Harness the energy of constructive conflict by taking all your Engineer-like impulses and filtering them through the lens of an Artist. To make your ideas and plans more creative, try diverging and expanding the possibilities by asking the following CREATE questions:

  • Combine: What if we combined this with something else?
  • Reverse: What if we did the opposite?
  • Expand: What if we made it larger?
  • Adapt: What if we changed some part of this?
  • Trim: What if we made it smaller?
  • Exchange: What if we traded places with something else?


The Athlete

The Athlete is always competitive, looking to produce the best work possible. Driven and relentless, they plow through barriers. They can grow by learning to be team players and slowing down. Athletes could benefit deeply from making sure that they have support from key stakeholders and considering all the relevant facts before running full tilt.

The Athlete’s Action Plan

▪ To make your ideas and plans more collaborative, try cultivating and accommodating the possibilities by asking the following COLLABORATE questions:

  • Cooperate: What can we do to establish a shared culture?
  • Open: What can we do to be more inclusive?
  • Listen: What can we do to better understand each other?
  • Learn: What can we do to develop our skills or improve our abilities?
  • Attentive: What can we do to help others around us?
  • Bridge: What can we do to resolve disagreements?
  • Outreach: What can we do to support other communities?
  • Respect: What can we do to treat others fairly?
  • Accommodate: What can we do to adapt to the circumstances?
  • Trust: What can we do to demonstrate our commitment?
  • Empower: What can we do to give others the freedom and power to decide?


The Sage

Warm, compassionate, and natural extroverts, Sages love to work in teams and collaborate with other people. They build connections, relationships, and communities. They can grow by learning to assert themselves, avoiding groupthink, and allowing logic to guide their decisions instead of just emotions.

The Sage’s Action Plan

▪ Stretch out the possibilities of Sage-motivated innovation by subjecting your community-building impulses to the more cutthroat attitude of an Athlete. To make your ideas and plans more competitive, try accelerating and focusing the possibilities by asking the following COMPETE questions:

  • Challenge: What can we do to win?
  • Overcome: What can we do to break through our obstacles to success?
  • Maneuver: What can we do to outsmart our competitors?
  • Push: What can we do to move faster?
  • Energize: What can we do to excite our team?
  • Target: What can we do to focus on the results?
  • Engage: What can we do to meet our rivals head-on?


To Innovate is to Embrace All Four Heroes

Beneath your dominant worldview lies all the other Innovation Code archetypes: we all have an inner Artist, Engineer, Athlete, and Sage, pushing and pulling against each other as different threads of our characters. Just as you would at the organizational level, use that inner tension to create something powerful. It is in our inconsistencies and opposing impulses where we will find ways to do newer and better things.

Kyaw Wai Yan Tun

Hi, I'm Wai Yan. I love designing visuals and writing insightful articles online. I see it as my way of making the world a more beautiful and insightful place.