4 Keys to Building a Top Innovation Team

Nine Silver and Gold Keys

Thomas Edison may well have been the greatest innovator the world has ever known. Among his many inventions are the phonograph, the microphone, and, of course, the light bulb—all invented in his Menlo Park Laboratory. Yet, the “Wizard of Menlo Park” as Edison came to be known didn’t do it alone. Perhaps his greatest invention was to assemble an innovation team around him to make his ideas real.

William Joseph Hammer was Edison’s lab assistant and later Chief Engineer of Menlo Park, who supervised many of Edison’s experiments and made adjustments based on the results. Samuel Mott was a draftsman, who made the drawings and completed many of Edison’s 1,093 patents.  Grosvenor Lowery was Edison’s lawyer and chief fund raiser. John Kruesi was a Swiss clockmaker who created many of Edison’s early prototypes.

Edison recognized that coming up with the idea is not even half the battle. Success lies in bringing together a whole host of talents—and mindsets—to bring ideas from concept to commerce.

While Edison got all the glory, his ideas very likely wouldn’t have made it into the world without the talents of Hammer, Mott, Lowery, and Kruesi.  Each played a specific role to make Edison’s ideas a success.

At Altitude, our innovation process centers around moving ideas from concept to commerce is our purpose. We value the idea, but recognize a team filled only with great ideators won’t go far. We’ve identified four roles our project team members need to play to be successful:

The Visionary

The visionary sees the idea. Typically, this is the role that people most closely associate with innovation. Visionaries can see ideas from any number of sources—empathy from observing people, technology, design, or business. However, visionaries can’t do it alone. For an idea to become reality, different roles must be played . . .

The Maker

The maker can actually build the idea, letting people experience it for the first time. Makers possess a special skill for quickly transforming a mental concept into something people can see and experience—either through physical or digital means.

The Editor

The editor makes the idea better. The editor sees the idea in a much more malleable form than the visionary. Drawing on their understanding of people, design, or technology, the editor can make adjustments and changes to the idea to improve and make a better experience for those who will use it.

The Foreman

The foreman gets everyone to work together seamlessly. The foreman is the glue that binds the visionary, maker, and editor together. The foreman is able to act as a translator between the visionary, maker, and editor so that they all work together on the larger goal of getting something out in the world.

When it comes to innovation, it can be tempting to focus solely on the role of the chief innovation officer. However, true innovation needs a more diverse skill set.  Success lies in a deep collaboration between the entire innovation team – visionaries, makers, editors, and foremen – to take ideas from concept to commerce.

Craig McCarthy

Posted By: 

Craig McCarthy

Director, Strategy