Typecast for action?
The dynamic world of e-commerce demands that ideas are put into action. But are you employing the right people? Mark Lewis reports on a psychometric test that sorts the innovators from the plodders

A psychometrictest launched last week by the Oxford Psychologists Press promises to enable IT departments to assess more accurately their employees' capacity for innovation. For IT directors, the test offers the chance to ensure the most appropriate team members are active in dictating the department's strategic direction.

Named the InnovationPotential Indicator, the new test is the brainchild of occupational psychologist, Dr Fiona Patterson, who conceived of it in 1990 while advising on staff selection and assessment as Ford Europe's occupational psychologist.

Patterson, who currently lectures in occupational psychology at Nottingham University, found she was receiving more and more requests from around the business for a means of measuring the creativity and innovation of existing members and potential recruits.

But when she looked at the study of innovation, she realised what little existed was "itty bitty and a bit messy". There was precious little meat clinging to the bare bones of divergent thinking, lateral thinking, tolerance of ambiguity and all the other buzz phrases of the day.

Patterson took the difference between creativity and innovation as the starting point of her research. Her conclusion set the tone for the test she has developed.

Creativity, concluded Patterson, is about "thinking about things in a totally original way". But innovation is not just about a thinking process, but about going one step further and producing a new product or process. "It's about taking action", she says.

It's this emphasis on the practical application of new ideas to achieve tangible results that Patterson has focused upon in her test. She was keen to get away from the clich‚d "mad scientist" archetype of innovators as "people with Tefal heads in labs in white coats - geniuses with rather large foreheads. That's just not the case."

Indeed, part of the test's focus is upon an individual's motivation, drive, personality and ability to interact with colleagues, since it is skills such as these, says Patterson, that enable one to turn a good idea into reality.

The Innovation Potential Indicator is constructed around thirty-six statements, with which one either agrees or disagrees. These statements are in turn based upon four key clusters of characteristics:

  • Consistency of work style. If you are dutiful, methodical and conscientious, you are less likely to be innovative.

  • Adaptation. This cluster of characteristics focuses upon your preferred problem-solving style. If you tend to aim to solve problems within existing boundaries, concentrating upon improvements rather than aiming for originality, you are less likely to be innovative.

  • Intrinsic motivation to change. If you are attracted to variety and are intellectually curious, then you are likely to be an innovator.

  • Challenging behaviour. It is typical of the make-up of an innovator that he or she is happy, as Patterson puts it, "challenging current practices in a positive way." If you prefer autonomy to harmony and consensus - are quarrelsome, even - then you are likely to be an innovator.

    Patterson hopes her indicator will help organisations buck the trend of traditional recruitment thinking and to bring more risk-takers into the business.

    Traditionally, recruiters have concentrated on locating systematic and conscientious people who can deliver satisfactory work on time - individuals who will "get on with what they are told to". Patterson calls this model a "negative predictor of innovation" and warns, "we could be deselecting people who are more innovative".

    The need to be "more change-oriented" has never been more important. Advances in technology have made our workforce more mobile, flexible and autonomous than ever before, and this makespinpointing latent innovators crucially important. Moreover, the unrelenting rise of e-business is demanding, not just that we give our imaginations free rein, but that we turn ideas into actions. As Patterson puts it, "getting competitive advantage in the IT world is exactly about innovation."

    Beyond recruitment, the test can help in personnel development, either of yourself or your staff.

    "You might want to profile yourself, see where you fail and do some work on that [area]", says Patterson. There's a reassuring message here. While it may not be feasible to turn a dullard into a dynamo, it is certainly possible to hone your innovation skills. "We're not saying you can't change, it's not about pigeonholing people", says Patterson. The test is not "a labelling one-off, and that's it. I do think there is room to shift."

  • For further details on the Innovation Potential Indicator, call the Oxford Psychologists Press on 01865 404500.

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    This was first published in March 2000

     

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