Yes, this is very counterintuitive … if you consider innovating from an individual’s perspective. But innovating is a group process. It’s the SAM (social adoption mechanism) that allows tribes or any social system, to be flexible in a dynamic environment.
And the innovator contributes to that system. They rebel against the existing norms. They search for ways to create value in an alternative way. Being low in self-monitoring, they are driven by the internal need to be different. Doing so, they are unconsciously building labs for the social system, labs of new value, that could become very useful for the social system in future circumstances.
So, without realizing, innovators provide the social system with the options to evolve within the ever-changing environment wherein the human race developed.
The innovator is taking all of the functional risks within his domain. He collects tons of knowledge that, at this very moment, are not relevant for the group. Imagine a berry innovator, when the regular diet of the tribe is vegetation. He will know which berries to eat, and which are disgusting or poisonous. He’s driven by his own interest (can’t digest vegetation, …). His value lab will only become mainstream when the environment would change and vegetation around the tribe would die out. But once this happens, the social system can rely on the knowledge built over time by the innovator, avoiding all of the investments in time and energy that would be necessary to develop that same knowledge.
However, because innovators are so socially irrelevant, another personality in the SAM is needed to connect the value lab of the innovator with the current needs of the social system and the changing environment … This is the gatekeeper … I will discuss him in my next post.