Going from One Brain to Many Brains is Crazy Hard To Do for an Innovator [one huge reason teams fail]
There’s one characteristic of an Innovator that seems to define them.
Innovators love to solve problems.
I mean.. they really love to solve problems.
To an Innovator, solving a problem is a compulsion. They are compelled by curiosity. They are compelled by the challenge. They can’t stop themselves. It’s the most natural thing in the world for them to do, and they are good at it.
An Innovator can’t stand to the side and point at a problem and say “yup.. there’s a problem” and then walk away. Instead, they raise their hand and say “I think I can solve that!”
As a result, many Innovators are also natural leaders due to their willingness to take responsibility for the problem and their ability to emote passion and purpose.
Being an Innovator might make you a natural leader, but it could also make you a terrible manager — preventing you from building the team or company of your dreams.
Let me explain.
Innovators are compelled to solve problems
In the beginning, the Innovator leads the battle — in fact, they are the battle cry. They may also become “the boss” by being assigned a team (if they work in an organization) or by gathering a team around them (if they are the founder of a startup). In the beginning, they are “the brain” of that early team. They have the vision, the drive, and the energy. They are the nucleus of the team and as a result — they are deeply involved in all aspects of the project.
They get good at being that brain. In fact, in the beginning, the team needs the Innovator to be the brain, relying on them for guidance and direction and motivation.
Innovators are also an impatient bunch, constantly trying to get things done faster. Instead of helping others work their way through problems to find solutions, it’s common for the Innovator to jump in and say “here is how you should do that” or “let me show you how” or “It’s ok, I can do this” or “let me help with that.” Remember, both curiosity and problem solving are the main drivers of an Innovator — they are compelled to do this.
Some people call this micro-managing — but to the Innovator, they see it as helping.
This is where the problem creeps in.
Many look at the Innovator and say things like …
“I think she has ADHD…”
“He gets so easily distracted…”
“Do they really have nothing better to do than to help me with my work?”
Here’s the deal.
Innovators just can’t help themselves.
Innovators are actually not easily distracted.
Innovators have amazing focus, however, the sight of an unaddressed problem [especially one that they know how to solve] is like a crooked picture on a wall to someone with OCD — they can’t leave that picture alone — it must be straightened on the wall.
Think of it being an “innovation compulsive disorder” — ICD. They aren’t distracted by “sparkly things” — they are distracted by unsolved problems that they know how to fix.
This is the reason why it is crazy hard to scale any team or organization that has an Innovator at its core.
Moving to Many Brains
In order for the team or organization to effectively scale, the team must move from having a single brain to having many brains — each working independently yet together as a whole.
This transition is a very (VERY) hard thing to do for most Innovators as the same Innovator who sparked the team now has to find a way to get out of the way of the team and stop being the bottleneck.
Growth bottlenecks created by the Innovator is one of the reasons I’ve seen teams (and startups, and scaleups) whither and die when they get to a certain size — the brain simply gets overloaded.
This results in two possible outcomes.
1 — Team members get frustrated and leave, which drives the Innovator nuts with feelings of abandonment.
2 — Team members get complacent and simply let the Innovator continue to be the brain — they become drones to the Queen Bee. Life is good. They carry on carrying on.
In all cases, you get a team that acts much like a zombie — they walk around half alive, half dead — not progressing yet not dying either.
The Innovator, who won’t let go of the brain part of their job, becomes overworked, frustrated, and angry. Depression creeps in and so does crippling anxiety. They start to work longer and longer hours — their health suffers (mentally and physically) — their relationships suffer.
As a natural problem solver, they ironically try to solve the scaling problem by trying to be a bigger and better brain — to outthink their way out of the situation they are in — to micro-manage everyone and everything even more.
Why is this so hard for so many Innovators?
It’s because, in order to scale, they must learn how to empower and manage — in fact, they must learn to solve different types of problems — people problems and this is not natural at all to those Innovators.
They must learn to get out of the way — get out of their own way.
They must learn to give others resources to solve problems rather than solve those problems themselves.
They must go against the grain of their very existence. They must tap the breaks on the very thing that fills them with joy, with energy, with passion.
And this is crazy hard to do.
So, what’s the answer to this?
I wish I had a magic wand — a 5 step process that you can take to fix this issue with every Innovator. I used to naively think that anyone can change given enough time. I was dead wrong.
I was once told that three things define a person; skills, traits, and knowledge — you can only change two of these, but it can’t be traits.
If You Work for The Brain
There is only one thing I can recommend to those who are part of a team that has such an Innovator at its core — a team where the Innovator won’t give up brainpower to everyone — a team who is broken because it is too centralized in it’s thinking — a team who is micro-managed. A team who spends their days guessing what the brain wants them to do instead of deciding what they should do for themselves.
You need to realize that the Innovator is struggling inside — no matter what they may say or do that would suggest otherwise. They are just pretending they know what they are doing. They are just trying to look like they aren’t falling apart.
They are not letting go because they don’t know how. They are scared. Realize that they are living in their own personal hell.
They are agonizing over a problem they don’t know how to solve.
You can’t approach the Innovator and offer to help. They won’t accept it.
They might also allow you to give them advice, but they won’t take it.
The only way to make a difference is to take decisions off their plate. Don’t wait for “authority” to be given to you — just take it — do things — ask forgiveness. Do so even if you think it can get you fired — because, in reality, your team will die a slow and painful death anyway.
If You Are The Brain Who is the Bottleneck
Get some help. Don’t be too proud. Get a mentor. Get 10 mentors. Find someone who has gone through this before. Listen to them, despite your natural tendencies.
Ask yourself what you want more — control or growth?
Take a hard look at the burden you are shouldering — and realize how lucky you are to be surrounded by other brains!
Be vulnerable. It’s OK.
You must find a way to change, or you’ll be left with a whole set of new problems that won’t make life any easier.
The inspiration for this post
This post was inspired by a conversation I recorded with Todd Embley. You can watch and listen to the whole thing here:
What’s Your Journey?
I’m really interested in hearing about your challenges as an Innovator. Please share a note, comment or a story. If you like this post, please help by sharing it and giving the post a few claps so it can reach more people.
You can also follow me on twitter @joelsemeniuk where I regularly discuss all things innovation, and more importantly, the personal costs we innovators bear.