Sherry P. Johnson
Three Signs You're Facilitating an Inventor... And What to Do About It
The Inventor: People with this orientation are creative and dynamic folks who are used to thinking across sectors and disciplines. They want lots of room for novelty, ideation, and celebration of good ideas. While they inject a lot of energy, they can overwhelm others with too many options.
This is Part 2 of 4, where we look at different orientations when it comes to meetings: The Researcher, The Inventor, The Analyst, and The Doer. This time we look at The Inventor’s possible motivations and fears and suggest ways you can not only work with them, but also help them feel seen and capitalize on their gift for providing innovative ideas.
How do you know when you’ve got an Inventor in your midst, and how can you respond?
1. Everyone will feel the Inventor’s playful energy. They’ve got lots of ideas they just have to share. They have a need for adventure and novelty, and when those needs aren’t met, they can become contrary or even rebellious. Their playfulness can sometimes be immediate and emphatic, especially if they expect to experience the “same-old, boring meeting.” Off-task behavior is common.
Have a playful opener. Opening a meeting with the regular say your-name-and-what-you-do will not cut it with the Inventor, who may read this as a signal to overcompensate as the sole creator of fun, innovation, and humor.
Find your own brand of playfulness. Whether your humor is dry or silly, find ways to bring it into your facilitative practice. Not only will this set your Inventors at ease; it also will help you bring your whole self to the job.
2. Inventors can overwhelm their groups. Participants can catch the spirit of divergent thinking and produce lots of potential outcomes and innovative ideas–sometimes causing the group to lose track of their original purpose. On the other hand, some groups shut down and defer to the Inventor’s energy, allowing them to monopolize the conversation.
Look at your process. Are you intending to invite a lot of innovation and diverse answers? Or are you looking for more objective analysis or evaluation? Make sure your process is in line with the intended deliverables. If you struggle with this, taking an improv class is a good investment.
Signal opportunities for divergent thinking in your opening and throughout. Let them know right away where their creativity will be valuable as you’re sharing the meeting’s clear purpose and process. Look at your questions. Make sure they invite the right balance of divergent and convergent thinking at appropriate times. Practice answering them to check this.
3. Inventors ensure innovative results. Despite potential pitfalls, their presence is key to breaking out of old habits and assumptions to take the group someplace new. They will make sure the group considers multiple and innovative ideas, rather than sticking to the same old script. Their discontent with the status quo makes them great allies in change management work.
Look for opportunities for participants to respond in multiple modalities. Make sure you’re not merely relying on verbal responses. There are plenty of ways to appeal to visual learners and those who think in stories and symbols in the group–many of whom will be your Inventors.
Encourage dissent. Look for opportunities–usually about 3/4 of the way in–to ask whether the group is missing something, or where there might be disagreement. It’s often just when a group thinks they’re finished that the Inventors can make sure the group moves out of its comfort zone, toward innovative solutions.