Thursday, October 13, 2011

174. MBTI and The Fuzzy Front End of Innovation

As an iNtuitive on the MBTI, I am always living in the world of ideas, concepts, paradigms and templates. My extroverted function leads me to engage this iNtuitive function not only in a verbal way, but also in a visual way. As you can see from reading this blog, I am a diagram junky. I am an ENTP, so the Perceiving function only amplifies the NT portion of my rational side, giving it a sort of roaming, explorative side to it.

In the book I am writing with Alan Hirsch on apostolic ministry called The Permanent Revolution, due out in February, we discuss the concept of The Fuzzy Front End of Innovation. This is a known concept in the world of innovation, but it has specific application to apostolic ministry and the way in which apostolic people steward the innovative (iNtuitive) nature of their ministries.

Innovation is a process in which something new comes into being. However, this new thing does not just emerge all by itself. Someone has to see a pattern, link disassociated ideas, or wrestle with ambiguous data and circumstances and draw out meaning and useful strategies to move forward and harness that chaos towards productive ends.

The Fuzzy Front End is where the mental space is populated with ideas or data. It is fuzzy because, at first glance, this space seems random, disconnected, and incoherent. Populating this first space with ideas requires a certain level of ambiguity tolerance. No ideas are off limits. No concepts are too far out. It doesn't even have to make sense or seem related. If it come into your head, it goes into the front end.

The next phase is pattern recognition. As you reflect and discuss the seeming disparate ideas, meaning and patterns begin to emerge, and a sense of form and substance begins to percolate in the back ground. In fact, several patterns or meanings may surface. The important thing is that begin to connect the dots and recognize patterns.

The next phase is characterized by the process of constructing a prototype. This is the juncture where the idea or pattern of ideas begins to take on a more visible and tangible form. You begin to get a general feel for what the big idea is and what it could possibly look like if it materializes. It is the early beginnings of a working model.

The next phase is a pilot. This would be when the prototype is actually put to use and tested. This is when the rubber meets the road and a working model is not only fashioned, but deployed for experimentation in the real environment in which it will eventually enter.

The last phase is production. That is, you actually begin to release the innovation into the public sphere and it begins to generate both it's designed outcomes, and the unintended outcomes that accompany any innovation  on the back end.

So what does this have to do with apostolic folk? 

Apostolic people tend to find themselves gravitating towards the fuzzy front end of innovation because this is where iNtuitive activity takes place. This is where possibilities, and potential live. At this stage, creativity, ambiguity, imagination and discussion are the order of the day. 

As the ideas and possibilities begin to take shape and find definitive forms and solid trajectories, the iNtutitive folks begin to lose their interest. This is where the Sensing folks come into the process and help operationalize the ideas and bring them into some form of linear process where it can be developed into a reality, a real actualized product.

The trick is to invite Senser,s into the flow of innovation closer to the back end than to the front end. Senser's don't live in the realm of possibilities. They do not thrive on ideas or imagination. They thrive on the realities of the here and now. If you invite a Senser into the front end, odds are, you may never make it to the back end! They will likely want to narrow the funnel too quickly by shutting out all the possibilities and ideas that seem out of touch with reality or the present scenario.

My wife is a Senser, and I have learned to invite her into my crazy ideas, not up front when I first have them, but later down in the process when my ideas have taken shape and found some sense of stability and form. This allows my ideas to not only develop and move further down the funnel, it also makes her a lot happier to have something more concrete and tangible to look at and give me feedback on. For a long time, I invited her in to my innovation schemes at the front end, and we both got frustrated really quick. Now, I see how valuable her feedback and contributions are as I move closer to the back end.

I would say Sensers should enter into the process of innovation somewhere in between the prototype and pilot phase. At this phase there is enough form and detail present to give them something of substance to work with. It also allows them to feature their best knack for paying attention to detail and the hard realities of how things will work on the ground, in the real world.

Now that I know this, both me and my wife are a lot happier now. I know not to throw all my discombobulated ideas at her and expect her to dance and roll around with me in the sheer potential of it all. And......this means I no longer feel like she is shooting down my ideas before they take flight. Some of my ideas need to land on the ground and become a reality, but it shold be a steady, controlled descent, not a wailing drop from the heavenlies :-)

Also, from her end, she doesn't feel like I am dragging her into the irrelevant, nonsensical world of theory and imagination. We respect each others preferred domains, and happily engage in the process of innovation from those domains.

So when it comes to the timing for the iNtuitives to reveal their ideas and visions to Sensers, the funnel would actually be inverted. The rate of exposure is limited at the front end, but as the process moves forward, Sensers should play an ever increasing role in fleshing out the intricate details that will make the idea become a reality. So it might look something like this:

Everyone needs to contribute in the process of innovation, but not everyone contributes the same way or necessarily at the same time. Us iNtuitives need the Sensers to help ground our ideas into the realities of the context we are innovating, but there is a time and place for landing the plane. It needs to fly around in the clouds for a while in order to gain perspective and entertain all the possibilities. Innovation requires deferred judgement, which means ambiguity and fuzzy front ends. But don't expect to deliver your idea with out the Sensers, they will be your best friends in making your idea a reality if you will let them.

If apostolic ministry requires us to engage in the process of innovation, (and it does) then it not only means stewarding the ideas, it also means stewarding the process by which you draw people into the process of making those ideas a reality. 


Richard M said...

Hey Tim,
Thanks for another interesting post! You helped me see a similar thing in my own marriage: my wife (S) is always wanting the practical so-what at the time when I am in 'crazy idea' mode (which is most of time). I have actually been concerned at times about the fact that I process ideas more with a good friend than with her (he's an ENFP with T leanings, I am ENTP). You've reminded me that it is the N/S dimension kicking in.
Hope to catch up soon - another Skype?

Planter said...

Hey Richard, would love to Skype again dude. How about next week some time?