Five Types of Innovators

Gary Hamel, writing in his book What Matters Now, has an intriguing theory on five types of innovators.


Rockets are young companies that have been boosted aloft by wacky new business models. Recent examples include Hulu, which delivers TV shows via the Web and Spotify, a music streaming service. None of these upstarts has yet been challenged to reinvent its business model – a test that history suggests many of them will fail. Like a child star whose fame dims as the years advance, many innovative organizations will become less so as they mature. However, it is worth paying attention to these streakers. While they don’t have much to teach us about how to build systematically innovative organizations, their game-changing strategies often illuminate important new categories of business model innovation.


Laureates are companies that innovate year after year, but in narrow, technologically oriented domains. They spend billions of dollars on R & D and employ thousands of super smart team members. This group is represented by General Electric, Intel, Samsung, Microsoft and Cisco. The laureates show up regularly on “most innovative” lists, and also dominate the rankings for most patents won. Inventive as the are, the laureates are a bit one-dimensional – they’re great at pushing out the frontiers of science, but are not always so good at innovation in other areas. Nevertheless, if you want to learn something about maximizing R&D productivity, the laureates plenty to teach.


The artistes comprise a much smaller category of innovation heroes. These organizations are in the creativity business – innovation is their primary product.  IDEO, BMW DesignWorks, and Grey New York are representative of this group. Everything about them – the way they hire, develop talent, and organize their work spaces – has been designed to provoke lateral leaps of genius. Most companies don’t have the luxury of focusing exclusively on innovation. They have to innovate while taking care of business –  like selling widgets or processing sales transactions. Your company may never be an innovator’s paradise, but you should be able to weave creative thinking into the mix and move the status quo out a little.


Cyborgs are companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple – they seem to have been purpose-built to achieve superhuman feats of innovation. Long ago they left the industrial-age DNA behind, and function on management practices that have been built around principles like freedom, meritocracy, transparency, and experimentation. Cyborgs are innovative on multiple dimensions and are going to be on next year’s “most innovative” list – and the one after that. While cyborgs make most organizations feel like they’re mired in mud, you have to remember that your organization wasn’t built from the ground up to be innovative.

Born-Again Innovators

There are a few geriatrics out there who’ve cracked the innovation code. Known as born-again innovators, they are represented by Procter and Gamble, IBM, and Ford. They have been top-down behemoths who found themselves outmaneuvered time and again by less orthodox upstarts. Eventually, they saw the light and set about reordering their priorities and reassessing lifelong habits. It was not an easy process, requiring a complete retooling of a company’s management processes. To out-innovate the upstarts, a company must reengineer all of the typical management rituals that have been around for decades, replacing them with bold thinking and radical doing.

Is it possible to have innovation in ChurchWorld?

It is not only possible – it will be necessary to survive the tumultuous changes we find ourselves in. Your church may not make a product or provide a service like the organizations listed above, but you should be able to learn from the different types of innovators listed above – and apply that learning to your organization.

inspired by and adapted from What Matters Now by Gary Hamel

What Matters Now

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