Excerpt from The Innovation Paradox by Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes.

“We can’t expect all employees to be innovative and wouldn’t want them to be. Armies need soldiers as well as scouts. What we can do is try to keep those who aren’t innovative out of the way of those who are.

Organizations harbor, and need both types of employees. Most working environments include both Sprinters and Milers. (At Microsoft they are called Pioneers and Settlers.)

One innovates, the other consolidates. Effective managers want both on their team, just not in the same position. Milers are absolutely essential for the long-term health and stability of any organization. They pace themselves, take the long view, and provide a steady hand on the tiller of their boats. Established companies are the natural habitat of Milers.

Sprinters on the other hand, are any organization’s main source of innovation. The tried and true bores them. Change excites them. Miler-oriented companies need to accomodate sprinters. In a constantly changing economy, their presence has become, paradoxically, essential for long-term organizational health.

Accommodating sprinters goes well beyond allowing them to wear T-Shirts to work and keep cats in their cubicles. By themselves, pay raises and perks are virtually worthless to novelty seekers. Dire warnings that startups might fail are no more effective with those who find this prospect intriguing than is telling teenagers that loud music could damage their hearing. Both know; neither cares. Better to offer sprinters an opportunity to make more money with more risk, accept their surreptitious activities, allow them to make decisions based on incomplete information, without having to back up every proposal with detailed research, and let them run with promising, if uncertain, ideas. In other word, behave entrepreneurially within a bureaucracy. A startup mentality can be encouraged within existing organizations by creating small semiautonomous operations buffered from inevitable attempts at sabotage by Milers.

Such ventures may not attract actual pirates, but they will appeal to privateers who like to take chances as long as they have the safety net of an established company’s resources. That is a valuable type of an employee to have, but not always an affable one. Great achievers seldom are.”


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