The Faces of Innovation

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

I’ve been listening to Tom Kelley’s fascinating book The Ten Faces of Innovation on Audible. It’s full of stories of how a myriad of businesses have used design thinking and innovation to transform customer experiences whilst nurturing an internal culture of innovation.

Kelley describes his ten faces by categorising them as three distinct types of personas, they include:

  • the learning personas help the team to keep from being too internally focussed and question their worldview daily by generating unique new insights as they go.
  • the organising personas are intuitive to how organisations move concepts and ideas forward through a complex game of time, budget and resource.
  • the building personas are great at applying insights from the learning roles and channel empowerment from the organising faces to make innovation happen.

Stripping each of these categories down we encounter all of these faces:



  • The Anthropologist loves stepping into the field to observe how people interact with services, experiences and products. They see with a truly open mind, are empathetic and intuitive and can spot things that otherwise might go unnoticed.
  • The Experimenter loves the process of testing and retesting potential scenarios, making ideas tangible, calculating risk, inviting others to collaborate and efficiently reaching a solution.
  • The Cross-Pollinator finds connections between seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts, curious with a passion for learning and teaching, they tend to think in metaphors and reap inspiration from constraints.


  • The Hurdler is a problem solver who loves a big challenge, they have constant positive determinism.
  • The Collaborator truly values the team over the individual, and is usually a rarity, coaxing people from their work silos to form multidisciplinary teams in order to share the journey.
  • The Director has a clear understanding of the bigger picture, sets the stage, brings out the best in people and ultimately gets things done.



  • The Experience Architect is relentlessly focussed on creating distinctive individual experiences through services, products, events, spaces and digital interactions; turning something ordinary into something extraordinary wherever they can.
  • The Set-Designer promotes energetic, inspired cultures through work environments that celebrate and stimulate creativity.
  • The Storyteller provides imaginative narratives, going beyond traditional medium to engage, inspire and capture their audience. They spark emotion, foster collaboration, translate values and lead people into the future.
  • The Caregiver is the foundation of innovation through human-centred design. They understand individuals through empathy and help build relationships with clients and customers.


I believe that when it comes to creating ideas that add value, it’s important to be able to understand how different minds help to see things from different perspectives. It would be boring if we all thought alike and agreed with everything, always! If innovation is all about people then understanding Kelley’s faces of innovation can help us distinguish the roles people play in teams and the hats they might put on.

At Common Good we’re a small team so we know we can - and like - to adopt more than one of these roles each when it comes to airing our points of view because it help create a broader range of solutions… and it’s fun to try on different hats!


Illustrations thanks to Hasan Habib

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