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Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners – 3 Types of Innovation

What kind of people do you need for innovation? Depends on what kind of innovation you’re looking for. There are several and they all build on each other in a endless cycle: According to Simon Wardley, you have core research, applied research & differentiation, and industrial research to get economies of scale. The people who excel at each type of research will have very different mindsets in order to be successful with their specific type of innovation. Wardley calls them

  • Pioneers – can come up with something completely novel
  • Settlers – can take the unstable thing the Pioneers came up with and turn it into a useful custom product
  • Town Planners – industrialize what the Settlers stabilized and make it faster, better, smaller, more efficient, …
  • Pioneers Reloaded – build on the commodities and utilities provided by Town Planners to come up with something completely new

I found his model useful to think about which people are good for which life cycle phase of a product. If you are working on prototypes for completely new products, look for Pioneer-y people. They can deal with uncertainty and will be happy and successful in a “Let’s try crazy shit”-team. On the other hand, if you want to stably and efficiently run an existing product, look for Town Planners. They will find interesting challenges in work that Pioneers would deem booooring. For more information, check out the 1-pager.

Are you a budding Product Owner? Check out our compilation "Skills for Successful Product Owners"

For similar concepts look at 3 Horizons and Kent Beck’s 3X-model.

Thanks go to Simon Wardley for the concept and finetuning the 1-pager and to Markus Andrezak from whom I first learned about the topic.

Content of 1-Pager:

Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners

According to Simon Wardley there are 3 distinct types of innovation and they require different mindsets to succeed. Which people you need, depends on where you are in the product life cycle.

Pioneers – Core Research

Pioneers are brilliant people.
They explore uncharted land. They show you wonder but
they fail a lot. Half the time the thing doesn’t work properly. You wouldn’t trust what they build. They create ‘crazy’ ideas. Most of the time we look at them and go “What?”, “I don’t understand?” and “Is that magic?”. Example: First ever digital
computer Z3

Settlers build on the prototypes that Pioneers created

Settlers – Customer Feedback

Settlers are brilliant people. They turn the prototype into a product, make it manufacturable, listen to customers and turn it profitable. They build trust. They make the possible future actually happen. Example: First computer
products such as IBM 650

Town Planners commoditize what Settlers made viable

Town Planners – Industrial Research

Town Planners are brilliant people. They take something and industrialise it, taking advantage of economies of scale. They make things faster, better, smaller, more efficient, more economic and good enough. They build the services that pioneers build upon. They take something that exists and turn it into a commodity or utility. They are the industrial giants we depend upon.
Example: Laptops by Apple, Dell or Lenovo

Pioneers build on the services that Town Planners made affordable and reliable


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