Integrators and Innovators – The Difference

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C-Level Executive: Are You an Integrator or Innovator? And Does It Matter?


The vast majority of C-Level executives are either Integrators or Innovators. Integrators are individuals whose focus is on seamlessly combining different activities, functions, processes and systems in a manner that optimizes performance. Regardless of the issue or application, they seek to achieve unity of effort or output among the different components – people, processes, systems, machines and in some instances, product and service offerings and even entire markets. They are typically interested in efficiency and the elimination of waste of resources, whether in effort, materials, time… They seek to simplify activities and operations to the lowest level at which the maximum efficiency is attained.

Integrators Favor a Franchise Model

The franchise model provides a picture of how integrators think. For example, each individual step beginning from the moment a customer first enters a fast-food franchise establishment or instead of entering, arrives at the drive-up window, has been carefully scripted and orchestrated down to the most minute detail. The goal in doing so is to minimize the number of discrete steps necessary to complete the customers order and send them happily on the way, while ensuring a highly standardized product quality. To the integrator, time, unnecessary activities, redundancy…are the enemies. They strive to have the business run like a well oiled machine and as close as possible to being on autopilot. The extremely popular and excellent book, The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber, outlines a franchise based business model that is ‘heaven’ for an integrator, in that there are no ‘exceptions.’ All processes are 100% repeatable and predictable and essentially operate without management intervention.


Integrators Focus on Streamlining

The integrator’s attention often focuses on the non-routine, un-programmed issues and problems that arise among the desperate business functions. Product features, quality standards, output, cost targets, schedules.…are all potential areas for streamlining through integration. Integrators are also at times less aware of the need for specialization within the organization and its functions and prefer to integrate these in order to achieve a more comprehensive and all-encompassing solution, which at times can be detrimental. Their preferred model is an organically holistic unity maximizing harmony of function.

Innovators Focus on Breakthroughs


The Innovator, by contrast, is less interested in achieving maximum efficiency and smoothness of operations, than in rapid forward progress. Innovators view the integrator’s predilection for ‘squeezing’ the last bit of toothpaste from the tube, as missing the point of focusing on gaining a bigger tube of toothpaste. It is not that they do not see the value in integration, they do, however, they also understand that integration typically has a steep curve, wherein the benefits, although starting out large, diminish rapidly as the bottom of the curve is reached. To them, the top half or two thirds of the integration value curve makes sense, but the remainder provides ever smaller incremental benefits at the cost of ever increasing effort.

Instead, they focus on achieving breakthroughs! New advancements and successes that reverse the curve, providing highly beneficial new outcomes while utilizing less resources. Their goal is exponential, not incremental results. The intelligent pairing of aggressive strategies with creative open innovation can create leap-ahead results that not only moves the organization forward further and faster than its competitors, but also disrupts marketplaces, setting competitors at a strategic disadvantage that they cannot quickly or easily overcome.

So Which is Better? Integration or Innovation?

The simple answer is ‘NEITHER!’ Both are needed. Without Integrators, the business will tend toward inefficiency and ultimately chaos. Without the Innovators, the business will have limited vision of what it should become and how.

As I stated earlier, most C-Level executives are either Integrators or Innovators. What is interesting is that more than 90% are Integrators and less than 10% are Innovators. This, at first glance would appear to be a very lopsided balance, but in fact, it is not. The truth is that most businesses require far more Integrators than Innovators.

Innovation tends to occur at a rapid and at times even explosive pace, but integration requires far more time expended at a slower pace. Innovation is breakthrough, integration is incremental. One occurs fast, the other much more slowly.

What is important is not which of the two you are. What matters is that you understand which role truly fits you and secondly, that your business incorporates both roles in the ratio that is best for your organization.

by John Di Frances

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