John Seely Brown’s secret formula for an innovation culture

I spent today at the Coach K Leadership Conference at Duke University (Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst will be speaking there tomorrow morning). One of today’s highlights was a panel called “Leading the Creative Enterprise” featuring John Seely Brown (the former director of the famous innovation hub at Xerox PARC).

I always love it when really smart people boil down the world into a simple 2×2 matrix, and during his comments, JSB put a chart up on the screen that looked something like this:

johnseelybrown To create a culture that will be successful at innovating, JSB says you must have four types of people: artists, scientists, designers, and engineers working together; each group must be represented.

Two of the groups (the artists and the scientists) get their energy from the way they internally process their own ideas, while the other two groups (designers and engineers) get their energy by thinking about how those ideas are brought to the outside world.

Looking at the matrix the other way, artists and designers share a common cause of trying to move people’s minds while scientists and engineers are firmly grounded in the world of actually making stuff work beyond the idea itself.

I’ve certainly seen these roles all represented in projects at Red Hat that have resulted in great innovations (the group that worked on the Red Hat values years ago comes to mind). And I’ve also been a part of projects that failed because at least one perspective was missing.

What do you think? Does this matrix work for you?

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


2 thoughts on “John Seely Brown’s secret formula for an innovation culture

  1. John Seely Brown is a force of nature. For good.

    Like another of my favorites—Roger Martin— he believes the sorry competitive state of business today is the result of ‘dysfunctional’ industrial-era models in which ‘most of today’s big companies remain stuck.’

    I look forward to his new book— The Big Shift. Although I’m a bit concerned with how complex the arguments and models I’ve seen are.

    No disrespect intended. I certainly respect, appreciate and value the work I’ve seen. And am a great admirer of Brown.

    It’s just that the beauty of the open source creative model is such powerful example of how simple innovation fundamentally is. Open source cuts through the complexity of industrialized concepts of innovation and simplifies the why and how in a way that truly democratizes innovation.

    As Einstein warned us, “Everything should be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.” That’s what open source accomplishes. Beautiful.

    Posted by David Burney | October 20, 2009, 8:24 pm


  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for John Seely Brown’s secret formula for an innovation culture « Dark Matter Matters [] on - October 20, 2009

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