Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners – How Innovation Works

Written by Dr Timothy Mansfield
Published on 21 August 2018

About the author

Tim Mansfield is a strategist, culture consultant and futures researcher, specialising in the cultural sector. He has been the CEO of the Interaction Consortium since August 2016.

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Researcher Simon Wardley derived the Pioneer, Settler, Town Planner (PST) concept from Robert Cringely's Accidental Empires as an organisational model for how to support repeated, long-term innovation. It transforms traditional organizational structures into cell-based organizational structures.

What is the Pioneer, Settler, Town Planner Concept?

With roots that tie into the methods of Chinese War General Sun Tzu and U.S. Air Pilot John Boyd, the PST concept is a strategy cycle that companies can use to create an advanced awareness of their unique environments.

Acting on the data collected for their particular ecosystems, they can then create a system of beneficial theft using small teams of less than 12 people each. These teams dynamically pioneer new development, propel the new development into a functioning and efficient product or service, and then industrialize the product or service for the masses.

Once a cycle is complete, it starts all over again so that the company planning evolves over time to meet the demand of user needs that continuously change.

What Are the Three Kinds of Teams in the Cycle?

  • The Pioneers are those who venture into uncharted territories and come up with exciting ideas that haven't yet been done. They are bold, brave starters who have no fear of failing. In fact, it is necessary for Pioneers to fail in order to find the next best thing customers are waiting for. Innovative, fresh ideas that this team uncovers are then stolen by the Settler team.
  • Settlers take the inspired ideas that Pioneers came up with, flesh them out, and make them a reality. They study current trends and improve on the product or service so that there is momentum, growth, meeting the users' needs, and earning profits. Once the Settlers have a product or service that is proven to work well, the Town Planners enter the scene and steal the progress in order to take it to an industrialised level.
  • The Town Planners enter the cycle and do more research into how to make the product or service better. The goal is to duplicate what works on the largest scale while increasing efficiency and creating a commodity or utility. Ideally, this will inspire new innovation from Pioneers. Once a Town Planner team is successful in creating a commodity or utility and a Pioneer team has discovered how to use it in a new innovation, the underlying successful component(s) of that commodity or utility can then be leveraged for further gain.

Structuring a company to use pioneer, settler, and town planner teams is an efficient way to deal with the uncertainty of inevitable change.

Additional resources

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