Have you ever been nurtured or protected by someone else? What was that special relationship?
I want to introduce an archetype to help us understand a set of actors in the innovation value chain. The design community boldly says that it can “save the world”. For that to be true, it will take an ecosystem approach. Each actor must be ready to reliably play their part in problem/opportunity analysis, solution generation, and value delivery.
Innovation is inherently risky because it is disruptive, often democratizes access to something, or challenges the status quo. “Guardian” personas are important for leaders in this space. We find them in various actors: Angel Investors help fund startups before they are ready for venture capital. In mature organizations, executive sponsors help nurture ideas. Advisors help provide intelligence and expert opinions. Coaches and mentors help startup founders mature and develop their vision. And if a leader is fortunate, a “Guardian” persona can be found in a trusted right-hand collaborator.
Designers, innovators, and problem-solvers have their work cut out for them in this coming age. Our world today is inundated by a flood of information. It is impossible not to have blind spots in our perception. The “Guardian” acts as a shield and enhances the perception of the innovator.
“There were 5 exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every 2 days.”
– By Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google.
Recently, I was fortunate to reunite with a very special “Guardian” from my early career. I spent the better part of 455 days in Iraq with my driver in 2008-2009. Our gunner and his strengths played well off each other. We developed a tight cohesion in our truck. The mission was area recovery for combat troops in the northern sector of the country. The team would be alerted for a quick reactionary response whenever there were disabled vehicles needing extraction. The task was to provide gun truck security for protecting civilian contracted mechanics.
We manned a firehouse duty station, 1-day on, 1-day off, on 24-hour shifts. Each morning began with intelligence briefings to prepare and advise us on situations we might face. I was prompted after each recovery to provide situational feedback to our higher command. We each had our field of vision to scan for threats during our troop movement and tactical formations. We constantly verbalized what we could see and hear. This technique helped us maintain our awareness and helped prioritize the noteworthy details for my reporting later. I built my vision for leadership around this tactic.
Having dinner with my driver the other night, I had the opportunity to thank him for his protection. He reciprocated by recalling that moment when our platoon sergeant articulated his respect for me. Lieutenants have an interesting role in the U.S. Army. They have de facto authority to lead. At the same time, the unit organization is designed to withstand losing them. They issue orders and ensure alignment with a higher intent, but the Sergeants run the essential activities day-to-day. Earning the respect of a platoon is not easily obtained. There is a special formula between proficiency and humility. I observed some egomaniac studs fail, who were not hip to this. I saw others who were not up to the mark in tactics, never come close.
Most Lieutenants join a unit and train with their soldiers before deploying. Leading in training scenarios is usually how a platoon achieves cohesion. My story was different. I arrived in Germany weeks before we deployed. I was green and untested by soldiers on their 3rd and 4th iterations into Iraq. I did not let this absolve me from my role to lead. I focused on the duties and tasks that were directly in my lane. Giving good intelligence reports and coherent orders, soliciting feedback and listening was key to “winning hearts and minds”. Building the team within my truck was the next most important investment of my time and energy. The topper was developing our platoon’s capabilities through networking and training. I went about this steadily and incrementally.
The endorsement of the platoon sergeant was a nod that I had achieved making a difference. I thanked my driver for being an early adopter of my vision for the team. Without missing a step, his recollection of that moment was followed by a swift comment.
"You had an impact on me with your strength in character."
See, the “Guardian” persona knows when something is a work in progress. They, however, see its merit and allow it time to mature. They protect it because they know other actors might otherwise cut it down. I do not want to glorify war. No one in my inner circle was ideological about the conflict or why we were there. We were simply actors playing our parts.
What We Do
Many players like drawing parallelism between war and business. Some do this out of perverse intrinsic motivators. Putting that aside, the linkages I have made are with situational intelligence and contact with uncontrollable scenarios. So I say, in the absence of utopian-like conditions, predictable circumstances, or perfectly self-regulated people, seek out a “Guardian” persona. Designers, innovators, and problem-solvers need a safe space to create, ideate and collaborate. These first “Guardian” personas made a lasting impression. They became my standard seals of excellence and offered contextualized profiles for me to go about recognizing others. Guardianship is a privileged relationship. It must be approached and built on trust.
Join our community and participate in the design process with us. Acorders is building a digital experience for storytellers of impact. Do you already have a “Guardian” in your camp? Are you one, yourself? Let us help you tell your story. Let it lead you to the right people. If this persona is you, tell your story with us. It will serve to connect you with the next benefactor worth nurturing.