The 4 Job Types That Make Innovation Happen

Thinkers, builders, improvers, and producers. Do you have all of them in your company?

You have an idea. Then you bring it into a product. Then you make the product better. And then you make the product over and over again.

The above four sentences represent the four types of work: thinking, building, improving, and producing. That's according to Lou Adler, the author of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, who recently relayed the roles—and how they're a part of every job.

Let's get into them.

The four job types

The visionaries, strategists, and creators of the world are thinkers, Adler says. In startup-land, we talk about edge-finding and white space—fancy ways way of saying we-need-the-new. That's the thinker's gig: to discover, uncover, and perhaps recover new products, business ideas, and perspectives.

Then as the conceptual rubber begins to meet the implementation road, the thinker hands off to the builder. Whether creating businesses, closing deals, or developing processes, Adler says the idea-to-lifers are builders, or entrepreneurs, turn-around executives, and project managers.

And the good, once built, will need to be better. People who upgrade, change, and optimize processes are improvers, Adler says. They're often they vigilant managers, monitoring and improving the processes in their purview.

Then, with the system dreamed up and tinkered with, things will need to be made. Enter the producer. If you're implementing a process that has moved from idea to reality to optimization, you're a producer, Adler says. Whether making sales, auditing performance, or writing code, the producer executes.

The way they fit together

Every job is a combination of these four roles, Adler says, depending on the organization and the market. If you think up an idea for an app and start writing code for it immediately, you could be both a thinker and a producer in a single day, if not an hour. This is why, perhaps, organizations that encourage people to move from one role to another as an idea grows into a product succeed—that trusting flexibility is part of how GitHub optimizes for happiness.

But even beyond the idea-shepherding, using different roles helps us defeat the biases we didn't know we had. Like IDEO partner Tom Kelley argues in The Ten Faces of Innovation, we can trying on the role of the "builder" to reorient our approach to discussions. Like he discussed in our excerpt, instead of playing devil's advocate, you can play producer. And just as an progressive society is post-racial, a progressive organization is post-disciplinary.

All this has an impact on innovation: Adler notes that as companies grow, thinkers and builders (and the newness they imply) tend to flee, leaving the organization full of improvers and producers, and quite possibly fostering a homogenous, dogmatic, neophobic culture. That is to say, if you don't have the diversity of job types on your staff, you could fall into the innovator's dilemma.

There Are Only Four Jobs in the Whole World—Are You in the Right One?

[Image: Flickr user Jared Tarbell]

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  • Mark Miller

    This is quite an interesting article, that led to a publication of our own blog dealing with the 4 Job Types! Our thoughts in taking this concept of distinct working style can be led to an entirely different level. If you are able to realize who on your team brings each perspective and how they do it, you can go back to the way our brains are wired.  We have all these tendencies but certain elements no doubt ring more clearly.

  • jmco

    Designers: Graphic designers (print, screen, interface, packaging, signage, 3D, art direction, type design, etc), industrial designers (products, packaging, interface), architects, fashion, and other professional design fields, do all of this, every day. Day after day. Think, build, improve, produce.
    But we say Think (research, understand, sketch), Model (mockup before making a final version), Iteration (fix problems, remove or edit, destroy and start over, add missing, keep editing, edit, edit), Produce (if you get the first parts right, easy!), then Repeat!


    Many companies already have these positions they just need to connect them, which is why we exist! Being able to successfully innovate is SO important that it really is coming down to "innovate or die."