Are Innovators Scouts or Pioneers?

The pioneer spirit is highly prized, and rightly so. However, the West was actually won by teamwork, through the combined efforts of scouts, pioneers, and settlers.

Scouts were first, obsessed with identifying opportunities and envisioning new things that could be. Pioneers followed, carving out the basic infrastucture in a hostile environment. Finally, settlers populated the ecosystem to create a flourishing economy in the new world.

In a great article for Medium entitled “Putting the Lie to Corporate Innovation,” John Wolpert describes how innovators are more like scouts than pioneers. They focus on creating something entirely new. Pioneers, likewise, aren’t settlers. They focus on building the new business. It takes all kinds. However, to create something entirely new, you need scouts.

Wolpert describes the popular consultant-speak that each person should innovate every day as a “lie.” Not everyone can or should be a scout. Furthermore, scouts shouldn’t be expected to be pioneers, and certainly not settlers. Therefore, it is helpful for organizations to think in terms of roles, frameworks, and tracks.

Healthy organizations need scouts, pioneers, and settlers. However, even a settler should know an opportunity when he or she sees one, and there should be free and regular communication within a structured framework. After all, roles aren't silos.

Putting the Lie to Corporate Innovation