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January 25, 2022
April 22, 2021

Evolution of Innovators - a Distorted Mirror

Working in innovation and meeting innovators daily, and maybe going through the evolution ourselves, I thought it would be fun to create the chart of The Evolution of Innovators. 

Or to sound more scientific: The Phylogenesis of Innovators. Think of it as a fun mirror to our "craft"—a playful yet witty classification. 

Let me know what type you are in and in what field. 

I am

A "thought reseller" in blockchain,

An "experienced original" in behavior-based Product-Market Fit, and

A "practitioner"  in crypto or cloud ERP. 

What's your classification? Enjoy and have fun!

Thought Resellers

I never heard this phrase before I met my business partner. So either it's his original, or he is infringing someone's copyright.

A thought-reseller is a person who reads more than a usual person and does nothing but sharing "new insights." No practical adaptation, no interpretation or application to any context, just pure thought reciting. A very typical phenomenon when relatively new knowledge is transferred between languages OR between disciplines farther away.

Sometimes you "resell" because of excitement. You can identify "thought-resellers" (who may make a living without adding actual value) by seeing their lack of own wisdom sources, stories, anecdotes, and experiences. They don't want competition as the foundation of their knowledge is not bulletproof. Hence they will not share where to access the originals. Quite surprisingly, most business books fall into this category.

Benefits: Get knowledge quicker, and probably in a more dense format. You pay for others to gather the information and sort it for you. It can be a map of where to find the information you need. It is especially true for books: You can read the original books & publications from Damasio, Thaler, some other neuroscience experts, OR you can pick a summary on human decision-making from a non-expert author.

Limitations: No experience in practical situations or applications. Even if they provide counsel in such cases, it will be the same "thought-reselling" process, just for practical applications.

How to identify: You can always hear great new ideas when around these people. Yet, when you ask questions, their answers -if any- lack depth or insights. When you ask or look for references, you will not get any. Their knowledge or understanding of a particular topic doesn't change over time.


(Thought resellers with experience, "applicators")

They might have started as thought-resellers but quickly became aware of limitations. Through curiosity and experimentation, they learned the ins and outs of applying novel ideas to a problem and gaining experience in the process. Think of trainers who "deviated" from the originals and created different exercises that better adapt to a situation. Or when applying behavioral-economics-based pricing to cultural context. Not just reciting the thought, but having a deep understanding and knowing when not to apply a given idea.

Benefits: You can lean on these professionals in practical situations. Their fuel is making things happen, and they will be interested in how they can apply the lessons to your benefit.

Limitations: It primarily builds on best practices, hard to create a real, sustainable competitive advantage on it.

How to identify: Always adds a story or deviation to any insight or abstract learning. The ideas are modified to some extent, representing practical feedback coming from years of experience.  Shares the sources of knowledge freely and proactively, as they believe the value comes from experience.


Rare breed. People who happen to think about the world, or just had a "Eureka" moment and come up with something original. It is usually built on other originals' work. Think of Kahneman, Tversky, Damasio. Their happiness comes from understanding some part of the magic surrounding us and sharing their knowledge and excitement with others. They are less interested in the practical application of their original idea. Often found in the academic field.

Originals can be divided into gatekeepers and evergreens

Gatekeepers provide a new insight that eventually gets surpassed. Their understanding and depiction of the magic were necessary for the next steps, but better descriptions ultimately replaced their guidance.

Evergreens are insights that somehow stand the test of time. Such evergreen is Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma" or Peter Drucker's management insights.

An excellent example of Gatekeeper is the 4P model of marketing by McCarthy. It was deemed obsolete or became more sophisticated and needed tuning with the internet age. It was necessary; the concept still holds true today, just not in the exact form it was conceived. Originals do not have to publish books or articles; they can be around you. These insights don't have to be giant breakthroughs changing the course of humanity. Small learnings, baby steps. 

Benefits: First to know, inspiring thoughts that can create a chain reaction in your organization.

Limitations: Application is up to you, practicality and external adaptability is not proven, "inventors" are less interested in bringing ideas that don't give them satisfaction. to life - 

How to identify: Your brain melts. It takes 110% to keep up with their thought process. 

Ideas are usually complex, especially at the beginning. Also, typical to get overly excited about the idea itself.

Experienced/Practitioner Originals

When you put the rubber on the road and walk the talk. It's one thing to unpack the magic surrounding us, and it's another to make money out of it, put it to use, gather non-academic experience, and get hurt in the process. 

Understanding the hidden dynamics and proposing a solution that works is the trademark of a true innovator. The desired state, where we all want to get, our Pantheon, Valhalla, Hall of Fame.

The process of turning an insight or knowledge into a practical application is long and tedious. It takes a different approach, and during the process, the original idea will often change and adapt to the needs and limitations of the application context.

The challenge of working with experienced originals is that you have to be open to learning new insights to use the original insights and experience fully. Usually, a condensed learning experience infused with practical results for your best (?) interest.

Experienced originals can be uncomfortable to work with as they are ahead of you and probably most of the market in understanding how original ideas work. It can create misunderstandings; these companies or individuals can even seem arrogant. It requires trusting the unknown from the client-side, as references might not come from your industry, and there is no clear cut path and no best practices. Sometimes you are unsure whether it's a total scam or the new 8th wonder of the world.

The knowledge you gaining these projects can be fuel for further advancements for decades to come. Think of applied behavioral economics experts. Or the ones that have started working on AI projects 5-10 years ago. Or how owning an electric car prepares you for the next decade. Using smart contracts or having experience with cryptocurrency-based lending?

Benefits: All-in-one package, a massive opportunity for building competitive advantage.

Limitations: Hard to find, expensive, takes effort from your side as well. Risky for being one of the firsts.

How to identify: If someone doesn't fit in the above groups, try with this. :)

Explainer chart:

Sources, other useful information to checkout regarding this topic: