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Managers Don't Love Innovators 

A New Study Of 1,258 Managers and 4,314 Employees Reveals The Most Innovative Personalities Are Generally Disliked By Managers

While the business press and the typical management book loves innovators like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, it turns out that corporate managers don't enjoy innovators nearly as much. The first part of the study surveyed 1,258 managers about innovative employees and discovered that the traits most associated with innovators are the ones least enjoyed by managers. While innovators are often thought of as risk-taking, nonconformist and stubborn, managers' favorite employees are practically the opposite; dependable, team players, and easy to get along with.

The second part of the study surveyed 4,314 employees about the culture of innovation at their companies, and their managers' preferences for (or dislike of) innovative thinking. The results showed a clear bias against innovators.

STUDY OVERVIEW
Respondents to the Manager questionnaire answered 4 questions rating 18 characteristics and respondents to the Employee questionnaire answered 14 scaled questions. Respondents for the combined study represented the following demographics. GENDER: Female (54%), Male (46%) -- COMPANY SIZE [EMPLOYEES]: 1-99 (24%), 100-499 (27%), 500-9,999 (33%), 10,000+ (16%) –- INDUSTRY: Computers & Technology (15%), Healthcare / Medical (12%), Biotechnology / Pharmaceutical (9%), Manufacturing (9%), Business / Professional Services (7%), Transportation / Distribution (5%), Construction (5%), Advertising / Marketing (5%), Finance / Banking / Insurance (4%), All Others (31%).

How Would You Describe Innovators?

What are the personality traits most associated with innovators? This study asked managers to rate 18 characteristics on a scale ranging from most typical of innovators to least typical of innovators. As you can see in the chart below, innovators were described as taking risks, challenging conventions, pursuing audacious goals, being stubborn, and not knowing their own limits. By contrast, the personality characteristics least associated with innovation included following the rules, pursuing realistic goals, knowing their own limits, and being agreeable. 

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How Would You Describe Your Favorite Employees?

Managers were then asked to describe their favorite employees. What is instantly clear from the chart below is that managers' favorite employees have the characteristics of the least innovative employees. Managers prefer employees who are dependable, team players and easy to get along with, even though those are characteristics considered to be the least typical of innovative employees.

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A MAJORITY OF PEOPLE SAY THEIR COMPANY VALUES INNOVATION

As we might expect, most organizations espouse a desire for innovation in the eyes of employees. Nearly a third of employees say that being innovative is Always a critical part of their company’s culture and a paltry 3% say it’s Never part of their culture. While this is a good sign for innovators, this chart doesn’t tell the whole story.

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COMPANIES LOVE INNOVATION BUT DON’T LIKE BOLD THINKERS

While 20% of people say their company Always prefers people who are bold thinkers, 23% say their company Rarely wants bold thinkers. It’s hard to imagine a company generating that next great innovative idea without employing and enjoying bold thinkers, yet employees clearly feel that their company doesn’t really want bold thinkers. As noted previously, it's ironic that for as often as the CEO or a Vice President espouses their admiration for bold innovators like Steve jobs, when they're wearing the mantle of leader, they don't want similar boldness from their employees. These results held even for small companies, so it's likely that the typical entrepreneur and founder in this study has a similar bias against bold thinking as the typical corporate leader.

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COMPANIES PREFER PEOPLE WHO QUIETLY FOLLOW DIRECTIONS

Not only do companies NOT prefer bold thinkers, they also would much rather have people who follow directions and do so quietly. A significant 28% of employees feel that their company Always prefers people who quietly follow directions. Coupled with an additional 32% of people who think their company Frequently prefers quiet direction-followers, and we can see a significant bias against bold and innovative employees.

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COMPANIES DON’T LIKE RISK-TAKERS

The irony of this finding is that while executives and investors generally laud bold risk-takers like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Larry Page, etc., inside of organizations that doesn’t seem to be the case. Only 12% of employees believe that their company Always rewards people who take risks. And a whopping 37% feel that their company Never or Rarely rewards risk-takers. The context of risk taking matters, of course. Perhaps extensive risk taking isn't as advisable in a healthcare delivery setting as it would be in digital health technology startup, but any innovation ecosystem will still entail some risk. 

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MANAGERS WON’T TAKE RISKS EVEN FOR THE SAKE OF INNOVATION

Every innovation requires some risk. While steps can certainly be taken to mitigate risks, there’s no way to eliminate it entirely. Unfortunately, a paltry 8% of managers are willing to take a chance at failure for the sake of innovation. If employees are only allowed to pursue projects with a perfect guarantee of success, it’s unlikely they’ll pursue anything at all.  

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MANAGERS AREN’T ENCOURAGING EMPLOYEES TO INNOVATE

Creativity and innovation are often the result of playing and experimenting. But as you can see in this chart, only 20% of managers encourage playful innovation and experimentation from their employees. This state of affairs could be especially damaging for young innovators; not only does innovation result from experimentation, but so does extraordinary learning, growth and insight.

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MANAGERS DON’T WANT EMPLOYEES TO CHALLENGE THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

Every great innovation and every great innovator challenges the conventional wisdom. But when only 19% of employees feel that their manager encourages them to challenge the conventional wisdom, it’s unlikely that many groundbreaking innovations will result. Imagine if startups only adhered to the conventional wisdom, would there ever be another unicorn? Gaining a competitive edge won't result from following the conventional wisdom; whether one is pursuing an emerging technology, artificial intelligence, or even putting some enhanced functionality into an unglamorous back-office application, breaking from conventional wisdom will be required.

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