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Bridging the Gap Between Stewards and Creators

Many technology-intensive companies today depend on employees with specialized technical skills, and managers may not fully understand the work these employees do. Moreover, managers and technical employees may have very different worldviews, and their worldviews may conflict during the process of business innovation.

After researching the movement of Internet and computing pioneers among various organizations during a period between the early 1960s and the mid-1990s, the authors identified two distinct personality types that are both vital to successful technological innovation — but whose mindsets often clash. The authors dub these two types stewards and creators.

An organization’s stewards are usually managers; their goal is the careful allocation of the organization’s resources, with an aim of achieving an optimal return on investment. Creators, on the other hand, are often skilled, specialized employees, and their focus is on a grand vision and mission; they frequently view business concerns as secondary. According to the authors, conflict between stewards and creators is, to some extent, inevitable. However, when such conflict is managed poorly, the organization’s capacity to innovate effectively may be impaired.

The authors suggest eight guidelines for managing steward-creator conflict more successfully. These guidelines include (1) Keep talented creators around, although they can be difficult to manage; (2) balance the influence of stewards and creators in the organization, so neither group always wins; (3) cultivate people who have credibility with both creators and stewards and can help resolve conflicts; (4) use peer review to more accurately evaluate creators’ specialized technical work; (5) structure the innovation process so that creators produce tangible artifacts regularly; (6) realize that there will always be some conflict between an organizations’ creators and its stewards; (7) avoid overly prescriptive control mechanisms that may alienate creators; and (8) ensure that closure on projects is achieved neither too quickly nor too slowly.

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