Contributions From The Idea People

What are the unique contributions that those idea generators bring forth on a team? Maybe you work with someone, or are someone that is a constant stream of new ideas. Maybe you, or this person, just has a knack for going way outside the lines, connecting seemingly tangential points to find a way forward, that for many was not obvious. How important are those idea generators in shaping direction, and creating improvements?

Ladders: The “better mousetrap”

Many, many, many years ago, when I was a child, the Fourth of July meant sparklers, watermelon, my dad’s famous beer ribs and those little snake fireworks burning up the asphalt. The memories are vivid – sitting in uncomfortable lawn chairs and saying “ooh” and “ahh” as dad lit the fireworks with his cigarette, one after another.  To me it was beautiful. I mean, it wasn’t “Disneyland fireworks” beautiful, but it wasn’t half bad either. Couldn’t get much better than that…or could you?

Fast forward a few decades…while lawn chairs have given way to sports chairs, sparklers come with twenty pages of warnings, and the Block Party fireworks pack is quite a bit more expensive…a simple innovation has changed the game a bit.

I am not sure when I first saw it, but now it seems painfully common.


People light their legal fireworks on ladders. Sometimes one ladder, sometimes two (with a board bridging the two for a steady surface to light a number of fireworks at once).

Their colorful sparks fly higher, seems somehow larger and gander as they put on their show. I suppose that someone, somewhere, thought about it one year…”hey, why don’t we just use a ladder and get more height?”

Connecting the Disconnected

The thing is, I bet a lot of people thought there was a better fireworks “mouse trap”, if you will, but not everyone has that ability to conceptualize with the kind of creativity those “ideation” folks seem to. You know the type, right? The ones who take a few disparate thoughts, connect them together, and come out with a new concept that seems so incredibly simple people scratch their heads wondering why they never saw it before! While they are on the journey of connecting disparate thoughts, they can sometimes be perceived as taking things out on a tangent, but somehow by doing so, they find a connection most of us never would see on our own.  Do you have someone like that on your team? You should, because they are the ones that are fascinated by new ideas, completely intrigued by the possibilities.

Every team needs that “idea person”, the one that looks beyond today and sees a better way of doing things. They seize opportunities to conceive that which no one else could, to add that jolt of enthusiasm for change. These people can see obscure connections from your “as is” problem, to your “to be” solution, and do so in a manner that is almost enlightening.

The Innovator

I am not alone in my appreciation for these innovative types. I recently read a post from Cindy Penchina at Hudson Fusion: The Four People Every Team Needs, where the author clarifies that every team needs different types of strengths, different types of people:  The Implementer who gets things done, The Polisher who ensures every deliverable is flawless, The Connector who presents the team’s work, and then you have The Innovator.

The Innovator is far more concerned with looking for new ideas, contemplating what’s ahead, and fueling the vision for the future with creativity and passion. They may not always create something new, but they will take what is familiar, string it together in unique ways, add a fascinating idea or two, and create something special and enhanced.

Not unlike celebrating the Fourth of July by lighting fireworks on a ladder.

When you think about it, perhaps there is not a better holiday suited for that kind of “outside the box” innovative thinking. After all, the United States was pretty much founded by a group of idea people, right? They took what they knew, contemplated what they could change, developed their vision, and set out to create something new and improved.

So…who are your idea people?  Who are the people, that you may be missing as innovators? Are there those who are quiet, not because they have nothing to say, but because their minds are running intensely, and they are very diligently sorting through what best ideas to present? Perhaps if given a beat, the ideas they generate may be astonishing. How do you value these intangible contributions as a leader and how can you set these folks up for success, where they can regularly contribute through the lens of idea generation and innovation.

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Shelley Hom is a technology manager with the State of California who was introduced to Strengths Finder through a leadership academy at work. Using what she has learned both in her work and personal life, she mentors colleagues, family and friends on using ones’ strengths to get them where they want to go! When she isn’t working, she loves hanging out with people and enjoying the simple things life has to offer; laughing, chatting, reading, and let’s not forget writing – all usually done with a really good cup of coffee close at hand! Outside of blogging for 34strong Shelley’s own blog can be found at: 

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