Looking for GameChangers

Apparently, innovators are simultaneously disciplined and focused, yet open to creativity and unexpected possibilities.

By John Chandler

Royal Dutch Shell ended 2013 as the largest revenue company in the world. Their mission is to become “the world’s most innovative company.” To that end, within the company is a unit called “GameChanger.” This 12-person team has, for two decades, been tasked with the role of functioning as Shell’s innovative disrupters. They seek and vet ideas, and they act as venture capitalists, putting seed money toward the most promising developments.

The team has had more hits than misses, having what one writer describes as “an outsize impact on the company’s direction and performance.” How? By figuring out which select few of the many ideas unearthed in research and development deserve focus and investment.

It turns out that the vast majority of great ideas for the company come from a very few key innovators. The trick is, how do you identify such an innovator? Here’s where the GameChanger project gets interesting — and where it may point to a larger trend about tracking how we can identify, invest in and learn from innovators.

GameChangers’ top 10 percent idea generators were marked by six competencies:

  • Mind-wandering: “The tendency to follow interesting, unexpected offshoots of the main task at hand, to see where they lead.”
  • Social intelligence: A kind of relational awareness and keen awareness of interpersonal dynamics.
  • “Goal-orientation fluency”: These people are trying to accomplish something!
  • Implicit learning: They improve as they go.
  • Task-switching ability.
  • Conscientiousness.

All in all, the innovators seem to be people who are simultaneously disciplined and focused, and yet are able to be open to creativity and unexpected possibilities emerging.

The GameChangers team quickly (ruthlessly) avoids wasting time on 80 out of 100 people, most of whom are presumably smart. They instead devote inordinate attention to the 20 percent whose ideas have the potential for innovative disruption. They are not populist but elitist in this sense.

If GameChangers is signaling a trend worth watching, it’s this: if you’re hoping to innovate, don’t listen to a hundred people with a hundred ideas. Find the 10 who most demonstrate key competencies correlated with innovation. And then double down on them.

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.