Get to know your “Experimental” personality

“I seek in painting.” Paul Cézanne.
“I don’t seek, I find.” Pablo Picasso.


These two quotes manifest the fundamental diference between the two types of innovators – Experimental and Conceptual.

The Experimental Innovator

This innovator often focuses on the same topic for a long time and changes her style or focus on an experimental trial and error process. Each work or project leads to the next. As a result, the need for in-depth preparations (plans, sketches) is reducing. Their way of working invites uncertainty.

As a type who tends to be perfectionist, they often feel they didn’t achieve their goal. They will often look at their work as a process of searching, in which they aim to discover the image (or product) while making it.

They typically believe that learning is a more important goal than making a finished painting or product. Because of their trial and error process nature, they often get to their breakthrough in a later stage in life.

We can call them the old masters.

How do they think?

Painting and sculpture, labor and good faith, have been my ruin and I go continually from bad to worse. Better it would have been for me if I set myself to making matches in my youth!


In the end, I failed. But that didn’t bother me.. I didn’t work on it with the idea of perfection, but to see how far one could go – but no with the idea of really doing it

Willem de Kooning

If a thing is worth doing once, it is worth doing over and over again – exploring it and probing it

Mark Rothko

Great innovators don’t just happen…they have to be trained, and in the hard school of experience

Georgia O'Keeffe

What should you know?

While more work remains to be done, the researched examples suggest that it may be useful to consider experimental-conceptual distinction as not simple as a binary categorization. In this view, there is a continuum, with extreme practitioners of either type at the far ends and moderate practitioners of the two categories arrayed along the scale’s intermediate position. Subtle differences in practices can be associated with major differences in professional goals. This is that whereas it may be possible for a conceptual innovator to evolve gradually into experimental ones, it is not likely that an experimental innovator can change into a conceptual one.

While we tend to associate youth with innovation, frequently, what appears to be necessary for radical conceptual innovation is not youth, but an absence of acquired habits of thought that inhibit sudden departures from existing conventions.

To really understand the basic differentiation between the experimental and conceptual innovators, we can use the words of the historian Pierre Cabanne. Cabanne made this point by comparing Picasso with Cezanne: “there was not one Picasso, by ten, twenty, always different, unpredictably changing, and in this he was the opposite of a Cezanne, whose work…followed that logical, reasonable course to fruition”


Experimental Innovators:

If you are closer to the experimental type of innovators:

  • Your success might result from a long period of gradual improvement in your skills and accumulation of expertise.
  • You are in it for the long game, so remember, there is a risk of loss of interest in your work, and you might see distractions from it.
  • In the face of frustration at this slow pace, it is essential to recognize, as Cézanne did, that slow progress is, nonetheless, progress.
  • Persistence in following a line of research is a virtue for experimental innovators, even when this may be perceived as stubbornness by others.
  • Recognize your skills so you can select new problems that are sufficiently similar in structure or substance. Use your experience and developed skills.
  • Understand that appreciation for your work usually comes more slowly and later in one’s life.
  • Resist the temptation to try to compete with conceptual practitioners of your own discipline. You might find that your resistance will reward you with growing mastery of your work.
  • Experimentalists tend to be perfectionists, and their enemy is often the belief that each of their work must be definitive.
  • Use your uncertainty to pursue further research.
  • You must learn that unresolved works are not necessarily unfinished. Even unfinished works can contribute new ideas or approaches to a discipline.
  • Experimentalists often benefit from collaboration, from working with younger colleagues or assistance. By so doing, they continue to use their valuable skills and expertise.

One last thought:

What shapes the age-creativity profiles is not the time required to produce a particular work, but rather the time needed to develop their skill.

Great experimental innovators may add substantive content to a previously abstract discipline, while great conceptual innovators may discover ways to simplify previously complex domains.

The research shows that advanced age doesn’t have to reduce creativity. Cézanne was at his greatest after the age of 65, Henry James wrote one of his best novels at 61, Frans Hals produced his most important painting at 80, Elizabeth Bishop wrote one of her greatest poems at 65, and Alfred Hitchcock was at his best in his later 50’s and 60’s. The list goes on and on.

We really need to acknowledge that innovators can come in different types. The two types are distinguished mainly by the methods by which they arrive at their major contribution. Our notion that only the young can produce innovation might be, as the research show ‒ wrong. It is time to rethink how we approach our innovation efforts and who we choose to bring on board in this long journey.

“The only principle in art is to copy what you see” Auguste Rodin, 1906

“An object to me is the product of a thought” Robert Smithson, 1969

Experimental figures

Georgia O’Keeffe

Ray Kroc (McDonald’s)

Paul Cezanne

Painters: Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Camile Pissaro, Wassily Kandinsky, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jean Dubuffet, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky, Willem De Kooning, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock

Poets: Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell

Novelists: Dickens, James, Twain, Woolf

Film Directors: Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock, Renoir

Entrepreneurs: Raymond Albert Kroc (McDonald’s) ‒ joined the company at 52; Warren Buffett; Robert Noyce, Intel; Wally Blume, Denali Flavors.