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Understanding the cycles of change using 'TIPS' (Part 1)

  • Published: Sep 29, 2016 04:00
  • Writer: Detlef Reis | 1,162 viewed

Imagine that a time machine took you back a few hundred years to a feudal principality. Upon your arrival, you're randomly assigned to join one of three traditional social groups: farmers, clerics or warriors. If you're lucky, you feel a natural connection with your class and perform well in your new role.

But what if you are not? Today and in two weeks' time, we're going to explore the societal classes that preserve the traditional order and those that drive change -- and how this struggle between stasis and progress perpetually drives the cycles of change in society and business.

Traditional social structure: For centuries, the three social groups described above could be found in most countries:

- The nobility was the first class. They owned and ruled the land. They paid for a standing force of warriors who defended the land against external enemies, kept social order and collected taxes.

- The noblemen also sponsored the second class: the clergy and scholars, who provided the nobles with knowledge and counsel, and also gave spiritual consolation to commoners to keep them docile.

- Finally, commoners with many duties and hardly any rights formed the third class. These farmers and craftsmen did all of the menial work and paid taxes to the nobility in exchange for security.

Together, these groups formed a stable, traditional system. In every era we can find similar groups -- for example, had you travelled back only 100 years to the industrial age, you would see three similar groups: workers, academics, and policemen or soldiers.

Fortunately, the feudal days are long gone, and the industrial age has ended too. We have passed through the information age and are now entering the innovation economy. This raises an interesting question: What forces have led to the demise of the traditional societal models that dominated past centuries? Let's answer that with the help of TIPS, Thinkergy's innovation people profiling method.

The four TIPS bases: Most established personality profiling systems focus only on differences in people's cognitive styles. TIPS adds a new layer: the TIPS bases, which can capture both the dynamic, cyclical nature of business and social change, and people's responses to these changes.

TIPS distinguishes four bases: Theories, Ideas, People and Systems. We are all attracted to one or more of these. For example, the entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk plays exclusively on the ideas base with his bold new ventures, while the investment legend Warren Buffett's success rests equally on two bases: theories and systems.

The three traditional social classes mentioned above relate to three TIPS bases: systems (the nobility and their warrior class), theories (the clergy and scholars) and people (common farmers and workers). But what if you were forced to work in a role that does not align with your natural base?

Driving force of change: Let's expand on our introductory scenario: Imagine you didn't go back in time alone, but in a group that included Elon Musk and Warren Buffett, both of whom were randomly assigned to work as farmers. What a waste of talent, you may think. Now, while Warren Buffett may accept his fate, Elon Musk will be a troublemaker. Why is that?

There is a fourth social group that complements the three traditional ones. Depending on the historical context, we may call this group merchants, voyagers, capitalists, entrepreneurs, creators, inventors, pioneers. Elon Musk is one of them. The rebellious people in this group love to shake up the traditional way of doing things. In TIPS, these progressives associate with the fourth base, ideas.

Ideas people have high energy levels, as if change and progress were programmed into their DNA:

- They take up new research created at the theories base, and use it to create bold ideas and progressive change in the form of new social ideas or new products and ventures.

- They know how to convince some people from the traditional bases to provide funds for their new ventures, or even better, they have already succeeded with an earlier venture so that they can fund themselves.

- Finally, they know how to enchant the people base to join their workforce and consume their products, earning them with their labour.

In short, people aligned to the ideas base recognise opportunities to transform emerging technologies into innovative products that they then introduce to the market.

In our TIPS workshop, we bring the introductory scenario to life through a game that allows people to experience what it means to be assigned to one's right social role -- or to be stuck in the wrong one.

So how about you? Do you play on a base that feels home for you? Do you see yourself as more of a smart intellectual, progressive entrepreneur, collegial worker, or rule-enforcing cop? Are you someone who stimulates, creates, enjoys or resists change? Come back in two weeks, when I will give you more insights into how to ride the cycles of change by looking at the four TIPS bases through another lens: the evolutionary macroeconomic concepts of Joseph Schumpeter.

Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy Limited (, the Ideation and Innovation Company in Asia. He is also an adjunct associate professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University. He can be reached at