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From Front End of Innovation 2012: Rob Cross on Energizers

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Orin's Introduction: During Rob Cross's lecture on social networks, he spent some talking about the people who energize and de-energize the people around them, and I want to zoom in on that particular part of the lecture.  Take a look at Prof. Cross's research here.

It is no secret that one of the keys to innovation is having the right people around.  Of course, it is important to hire for talent and skill, because those are necessary for doing the basics of the job.  Passion and interest are always a plus, because they lead to an increased willingness to go the extra mile.  But, for innovation, companies need to hire what Cross calls "energizers" -- these are the people that transfuse energy into the people and projects with which they interact.

Here's why energizers are important:

  • Energizers get more from those around them, increasing people's engagement in conversations and willingness to put discretionary time into relevant projects.
  • Energizers elicit people's creativity
  • Energizers tend to win out in the internal labor market and with customers
    • Ability to motivate others is as, or more, important than knowing the answer
  • Energizers promote work satisfaction and learning among those around them
  • Energizers create additional energy that spills over into follow-on interactions
    • De-energizers can be deadly on this front
  • Energizers tend to see possibilities (realistic ones) instead of constraints

How do energizers create these effects?  

In their day-to-day work, there are four key behaviors in which energizers engage:

  • Create personal connections (build trust)
  • Build reciprocity
  • Follow through on commitments
  • Stand for something larger than themselves

Energizers also exhibit five key behaviors in their interactions with coworkers:

  • Engage in possibilities
  • Attentive in meetings
  • Help others contribute
  • Disagree productively
  • Show flexibility
Many of these nine behaviors help create high-functioning teams and foster creativity (Orin's aside: see Keith Sawyer's book, Group Genius, for more on this.), so it is no surprise that energizers foster innovation.  One of the keys is for management to find the energizers, put them in key positions, and help set off the fireworks.

(Orin's aside: During the breakout discussions, I heard two interesting views on energizers, and wanted to include them: 

"Energizers are part of the conversation.  They are smiling, they are mobile, and are focused entirely on you (not distracted or unfocused, or act like they are listening).  They use body language to send you clues that they are actively listening.  [They] make you feel like they care and that you are important in that moment." -- Tim from Progressive Foam Technologies

"Energizers have a spirit of generosity, [and are] open to ideas." -- Raphael from BBMG)

About the Author

Orin C. Davis is the first person to earn a doctorate in positive psychology. His research focuses on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring, and it spans both the workplace and daily life. He is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and a freelance consultant who helps companies maximize their human capital and become better places to work.

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