Innovation drives success at work. By innovating, you break down stale, stuck systems and introduce exciting new ideas and tools that make work enjoyable. Here at Glide, we have watched thousands of creative thinkers build apps to solve problems, create new ways of working, and power entire businesses.
We’ve discovered that the people who succeed with Glide have one crucial trait in common - they’re innovators at work.
Surprisingly, success in innovation doesn’t seem to be correlated to what type of role you’re in or where you are in your career. We’ve seen brilliance across many functions, including brilliant innovation in Operations, IT, HR, and more. Instead, it aligns more strongly with how you approach creativity, inventive thinking, and working processes.
The heart of innovation, it turns out, is a willingness to take action on big ideas and try new things. It’s a desire to be constantly learning, trying new tools, and coming up with ingenious solutions.
Innovation isn’t limited to inventing a world-changing product or launching an entrepreneurial business. People innovate within their workplaces every day in ways large and small, creating better internal systems, discovering new techniques for working together, and building inventive new business tools.
It’s that innovator at work, what some have called the Intrapreneur, which fascinates us. Their work has a substantial positive impact on our day-to-day lives as colleagues, leaders, and collaborators. Figuring out how to unlock that intrapreneurial spirit in ourselves is the best way to truly level up our career.
Understanding what type of innovator you are at work helps you play into your strengths more effectively. It enables you to collaborate more effectively with others and build better teams. It will help you push your career forward and drive the success of your company, your team, and your individual projects.
Before you read about the four types of innovators at work that we’ve discovered, take the assessment yourself and discover your Innovator type. Then, come back here to read about the other types, understand how your innovation differs from others, and learn how to best collaborate with the other innovative people you work with.
The 4 Types of Innovators at Work
Within the wealth of observations we’ve gathered from the innovative people we’ve studied and worked alongside, supported by our data-driven research, we’ve found four primary types of innovators at work:
The Builder - Innovation as vision combined with action.
The Strategist - Innovation of a systems thinker.
The Optimizer - Innovation that produces results.
The Scientist - Innovation for innovation’s sake.
Each innovator type has its unique way of creating inventive new things and producing groundbreaking results in their workplaces. Discovering your type will show you where you shine creatively at work, how your innovation compares or contrasts with those around you, and what kind of environment will best foster your innovative mind.
Innovation as vision combined with action.
You build things — businesses, tools, products, or systems. Your innovation shows concrete results. You’re a visionary, evaluating the big picture and constantly looking for the next groundbreaking idea, but you’re not one to sit back and watch. When you see an opportunity, you organize the right resources and take action to actually bring it to life.
Builders make excellent hands-on leaders. They may be entrepreneurs and founders, highly motivated team leads, or action-focused individual contributors. At work, others look to you because they know big, exciting things happen when you’re involved.
Building big things from scratch
Finding new problems worth solving
Collaboration with other Innovator Types:
The Builder x The Builder - Builders together can be a powerhouse or a disaster, rarely anything in between. You’ll work best together if you both have a zone of autonomy where you can work independently and then bring the pieces together strategically.
The Builder x The Strategist - You can create truly epic things when paired with a Strategist. Your action-focused working style will be augmented by the Strategist’s meticulous attention to detail in ensuring your shared vision gets accomplished. Be careful about power struggles with this combo. You’re both leaders, so you may butt heads if you can’t learn to balance decision-making processes.
The Builder x The Optimizer - You will be sure to execute your plans while working with Optimizers because they will get you results. Your vision and action, paired with the Optimizer’s get-it-done and get-it-done-well focus, is a great combination for executing ambitious projects. Optimizers are more focused on outcomes than abstract ideas, so be sure to give them concrete direction rather than overwhelming them with too many long-term visions.
The Builder x The Scientist - You’ll enjoy working with a Scientist because you share a love for process and a deep enthusiasm for technology. You’ll build solid foundations and create the most innovative tools together. Watch out for getting too absorbed in the details when working with a Scientist. Bring your big-picture thinking to the table in this collaboration to provide direction and avoid distraction.
What The Builder looks like in the workplace:
Hands-on founder or COO - You have created a business or stepped into a leadership role and take that seriously. You now want to be directly involved with building systems and solutions to help it thrive.
Team lead - You love building innovative structures to help your team excel. Your teams always have the support they need to thrive, and other groups at your org look to you as a model for success (or to adopt the systems you’re building).
Individual contributor - You have innovative ideas and a vision. Maybe it’s a new tool, a better system for getting your work done, or an exciting customer-facing solution. Most importantly, you take initiative and follow through, propelling your career forward.
How Builders use Glide:
Builders are the most likely innovator type to build a lot of apps quite fast after beginning to use Glide. They’re perceptive and tactical and will quickly realize the value of making multiple apps to serve specific functions rather than trying to cram a bunch of features into one tool. Builders are do-ers in their workplaces, creating new tools that make life easier for the people around them and then excitedly jumping onto the next project.
When an entrepreneur, this type will thrive when they’ve gotten their prototype live and can iterate based on real-life feedback. Their innovation is goal-oriented and iterative, so quickly getting their app into the hands of users is important to them. At work, Builders, like Scientists, are the most likely types to create Glide apps for their personal use — to enhance their productivity, organization, or workflows.
How Builders learn:
Builders tend to like to know absolutely everything about the tool they’re using. However, they also want to dive right in and start building something real as quickly as possible rather than spending a bunch of time on theory. As a result, Builders are likely to enjoy learning Glide build-along videos like Build With Glide and the video courses in Glide University that let them learn in a hands-on way right in Glide.
Inspiration from other Builders:
Are you a Builder? Take the Assessment
Your innovation is that of a systems thinker.
You take an eagle’s eye view, identifying patterns, problems, and opportunities for improvement. You’re less hands-on than the other innovative types, preferring to identify and present the right solution that empowers those you work with to work independently and solve problems for themselves.
Strategists make great leaders and great collaborators. You see what other people don’t and synthesize information to find a greater whole. At work, you are sought-after for advice and help empower people with the tools they need to solve their problems.
Dissecting and defining problems
Collaboration with other Innovator Types:
The Strategist x The Builder - You can create truly epic things when paired with a Builder. Your big-picture vision is shared by the Builder, and your attention to detail will be supported by the Builder’s focus on execution. Be careful about power struggles with this combo. You’re both leaders, so you may butt heads if you can’t learn to balance decision-making processes.
The Strategist x The Strategist - Together, Strategists can set up amazingly innovative systems. The problem lies in executing them. Often, Strategists do their best work together as team leads who are collaborating or as part of a larger group where they can put their heads together and share their ideas with folks who are more “do-ers” and like to have a task.
The Strategist x The Optimizer - With an Optimizer, your work will be extremely focused. You share a desire to execute tasks in the most efficient way and get the best results from your work. You can provide the Optimizer with a bigger-picture view of the situation while they can refine your vision and keep your focus on ideal outcomes. Watch out for a tendency to skip too quickly through the process in your shared focus on the outcome — the tools you’re using to get there still matter a lot.
The Strategist x The Scientist - A fantastic combination of strategy and execution. You provide the direction and vision a Scientist needs while they dive deep into the details and get the work done well. Your focuses are on opposite ends of the process, so you might talk past each other at times. To combat this, give the Scientist space to work, bookended by scheduled check-ins.
What The Strategist looks like in the workplace:
Executive leadership - You steer the ship, seeing areas of opportunity and finding the tools your company needs to take advantage of them. You are an innovative leader focused on empowering a proactive, autonomous team.
Internal advocate - As an independent contributor or team lead, you are always looking for opportunities and aren’t afraid to bring ideas to the table, even disruptive or radical ones. When you see a tool your org could benefit from, you do your research and advocate for it. You are valued for your big-picture thinking and insight.
How Strategists use Glide:
With their eye on improving systems, they are often frustrated by imperfect, off-the-shelf software and find it deeply satisfying to create exactly the tool their team needs for a certain task. They may often build a tool they will never use themselves just because they see a need for it in the larger fabric of their team’s workflow.
Strategists are the most likely type to discover Glide and bring it to their wider team to help improve their company’s systems. They see a need, do their research, and realize how much potential they can unlock by introducing this new tool. Strategists are also the most likely type to hire a Glide Certified Expert to make their vision come to life or even to teach them or their team how to use Glide most effectively.
How Strategists learn:
Strategists are practical and efficient when they set about learning a new tool like Glide. They like to use Glide University Courses that let them select the exact lesson they need to learn from a range of specific topics. They also like to get inspired by real-life, practical examples and are the most likely to seek out Customer Stories to gain insight and ideas for specific ways they, or their teammates, could use apps to drive success.
Inspiration from other Strategists:
Are you a Strategist? Take the Assessment
Your innovation produces results.
You want to be efficient and effective, and you innovate with results in mind. Often, optimizers have a lot to juggle or are responsible for supporting the success of others. Your innovation is focused on finding better, more efficient ways of doing things. You may see opportunities for radical innovation, but you also constantly seek small ways to improve systems over time. After all, you’re typically the one they call when the system breaks again. Your team knows that everyone's lives will get easier with you on board.
Solving things for others
Collaboration with other Innovator Types:
The Optimizer x The Builder - Pairing up with a Builder will help you get big, impactful results at work. You both are action-oriented, so you’ll enjoy getting things done with them. Their big-picture vision will help provide your work with direction when executing ambitious projects. Be careful to ground the Builder and re-focus them on the results occasionally since they can tend to get lost in big ideas.
The Optimizer x The Strategist - When you work with a Strategist, your work will be extremely focused. You’ll be able to refine their big-picture vision to achieve optimal results, and they can provide you with a deeper level of understanding of the systems you’re trying to optimize. Watch out for a tendency to skip too quickly through the process in your shared focus on the outcome — the tools you’re using to get there still matter a lot.
The Optimizer x The Optimizer - A team of Optimizers will be the most efficient and productive thing you’ll ever see, with everyone working at the top of their game. Make sure to share your logic and process with one another, however, and don’t assume your collaborators see things the exact same way you do. You can learn from their perspectives. And be sure to take a step back and remind each other of the big picture objective every once in a while.
The Optimizer x The Scientist - You have a shared love of process improvement that can make this a successful combination. You want to get the best results possible, and a Scientist will thoroughly explore a problem to get you there. You may find their long and meandering process distracting, so it’s best to hand plans over to the Scientist and let them work for a while before checking in again.
What The Optimizer looks like in the workplace:
IT - You’re busy solving problems day in and day out. Your innovation is focused on getting work off your plate and improving your efficiency so you can begin diving into the work that you really want to be doing. When you create a system for your company, it’s one that works.
Operations - Optimizers shine in operations roles. You get everything running like a well-oiled machine, supported by the effective tools you build and the efficient systems you set up.
Team lead - You are the kind of leader that people love to work for because they know their efforts will always be pointed in the right direction. They trust that you will make your whole team look great by helping them get results. You clear roadblocks and set up great systems.
How Optimizers use Glide:
Optimizers are also the most likely type to start building from a Template. Starting with the essential building blocks for their use case is efficient, and it means they can spend more of their energy customizing and refining the more advanced features they need.
Optimizers usually begin using Glide because they have a very specific inefficiency they’ve been frustrated by. They’ll get a tool built and share it with their team for everyone to improve workflows. Then, they’ll quickly start seeing inefficiencies elsewhere and build additional tools, creating significantly improved team-wide systems.
How Optimizers learn:
Optimizers see patterns extremely well, so they tend to be fast learners. Most optimizers jump straight into Glide University to start learning the fundamentals (though they are also quite likely to watch videos at 2x playback and skip around to the good bits).
Inspiration from other Optimizers:
Are you an Optimizer? Take the Assessment
You love innovation for innovation’s sake.
You are curious and intelligent and want to be hands-on in everything you do. You enjoy problem-solving and picking things apart to see how they work. It’s less about the result for you and more about the process of innovation, understanding, and invention. In the process, you often stumble across truly revolutionary new tools or ideas that wouldn’t have been generated any other way.
You’re likely to be a geek, hacker, or enthusiast of some sort, always seeking a deeper understanding of the tools and tech you use. You are usually the go-to person when those around you have to solve a tricky problem because they know you’ll explore every facet thoroughly and come up with an innovative solution.
Building tools for others
Curiosity and inventiveness
Collaboration with other Innovator Types:
The Scientist x The Builder - You’ll enjoy working with a Builder because you both love the process and share a deep enthusiasm for technology. Your deep and thorough understanding of technology, paired with their vision, means you will create the most innovative tools together. Be sure not to get too distracted by the shared enjoyment of process and details while working with a Builder.
The Scientist x The Strategist - A fantastic combination of strategy and execution. A Strategist will help give your work direction while allowing you space to delve into a process that works for you. Be sure to seek out the Strategist for big-picture vision while you work together. Your focuses are on opposite ends of the process, so you may talk past each other in collaboration. To combat this, regularly update and consult with the Strategist as you work.
The Scientist x The Optimizer - You have a shared love of process improvement that can make this a successful combination. The Optimizer’s desire to refine processes and your deep understanding of systems means you can create incredible tools together. You may find the Optimizer’s rush to get to results challenging, so carve out time for your solo work while still checking in with them on the direction of your project.
The Scientist x The Scientist - Scientists working together will have a lot of fun and make a lot of truly incredible discoveries during their collaboration. Be careful, however, to set clear goals and end points together so you don’t get carried away with your experiments and forget about results — nerding out is always fun, but remember to re-focus on your goals occasionally.
What The Scientist looks like in the workplace:
Individual Contributor - Whatever you’re doing at work, you like to understand its inner workings more deeply. You’re the type to constantly be coming up with new tools for yourself or trying new software. Your inventiveness and curiosity make you an asset in any role, and you should consider sharing the tools you build more widely — they’ll be appreciated!
IT & Development- You shine in technical roles because you innately understand the inner workings of things. You can cobble together a new system out of seemingly nothing, diagnose the hardest problems, and quickly adopt any new tool.
Team lead - Your inventiveness and curiosity mean you lead by example exceptionally well, though you may find managing others distracting. You’re good at collaborative problem-solving and building tools to help your team work better. Your innovation works best when you share your ideas widely.
How Scientists use Glide:
Many Scientists like to dive in and start building immediately, figuring out Glide’s interface with a combination of existing tech know-how and trial and error. This process means they often find new and inventive ways to use Glide that even we hadn’t thought of before. Often, the most exciting features of Glide are things Scientists (or the Scientist types on our team) innovated right in the platform and then brought to us.
Scientists start playing with Glide because they’re intrigued by the tech. They may build and abandon lots of test projects and experiments before creating a tool they really want to commit energy to refining. Once they’ve got something concrete to demonstrate, they’ll often bring the tool and the Glide platform to their broader company to use at work.
How Scientists learn:
When using learning materials, Scientists often enjoy watching apps come together live, like in our Glide Build-Offs or Build With Glide videos. Watching how other people work sparks their curiosity and imagination. They may also like testing themselves by achieving Glide Certification — and they are more likely than the other types to skip the lessons and go straight to the test, regardless of their experience level.
Inspiration from other Scientists:
Are you a Scientist? Take the Assessment
Methodology: The data and tech that built the Innovators at Work Assessment
We had five years' worth of direct observation and customer interviews on which to base our Innovator insights. However, we also wanted to back up our qualitative data with professional quantitative research. We used academic and business research like this Harvard Business Review study that collected data on innovation in the workplace.
Their study collected data from over 100,000 individuals about how they solve problems and how they like to work. It identified four innovator types that closely aligned with the types we observed. Their study also found that innovators aren’t equally distributed across all industries and roles, reinforcing our hunch that we were seeing a disproportionate number of innovators in our user base.
When they researched what traits make someone innovative, they identified that “the key difference between creativity and innovation is execution: the capacity to turn an idea into a successful service, product or venture.” This is precisely what set the Gliders we were talking to apart.
Once we’d finished research and developed the questions and personas, it was time to build the assessment. Obviously, we chose to build it in Glide. We used reference tables to calculate weighted answers and assign types and used the new Dark Mode beta feature to make the app match Glide’s look.
Developing workplaces where innovators can shine
It’s fun to use an assessment like this one to discover more about yourself and gain insight into how you tick. Understanding your unique ways of working, what motivates you, and what environments allow you to do your best work will propel your career forward. You will be able to show off your expertise in your current role and make you a more appealing job candidate in the future.
However, innovation doesn’t happen in a silo. We work in teams, at companies, and with collaborators. This assessment can help you better understand your coworkers and innovate more successfully in collaboration with them. Take the test, share your results, and discuss how to create an environment where more internal innovation can happen.
Many companies have been working to create environments that encourage innovation at work, using strategies like Google’s 20% time or Atlassian’s ShipIt days. Time has proven, however, that just making space for ideas isn’t enough — you need the tools and support to actually execute the creative ideas your team is coming up with.
That’s where understanding the innovator types on your team comes in. Each type plays a role in identifying problems, generating ideas, advocating for resources, and actively implementing solutions. These types of assessments work best if everyone on the team participates, so send this to your team and share your Innovator Types with each other!
Understanding what kinds of Innovators you have on your team will help you all develop a better, more proactive workplace where innovation isn’t just discussed; it’s acted on.