Combiners are people who work across disciplinary boundaries to develop solutions. Some of the most important innovations happen at the intersection of different fields, disciplines, and departments, and combiners are people who can straddle them all with apparent ease. The Chinese chemist Tu Youyou bridged traditional herbal medicine and modern pharmaceuticals through her groundbreaking work in extracting and isolating artemisinin from the sweet wormwood plant, Artemisia annua, by drawing upon traditional Chinese medicine texts and methods.
Connectors are people able to grow and transform their networks in the face of crises. They create bridges and networks between different kinds of people with no sense of social hierarchy. Connectors get their energy from meeting new people, and by bridging and brokering gaps in their social networks. Whenever you say, “It’s a small world”, you have connectors to thank. Kenyan activist and inventor Ory Okolloh harnessed the power of networks to develop Ushahidi as a platform that leverages crowd-sourced information for mapping crisis data. Through the use of technology and collective contributions, Ushahidi facilitates real-time reporting and collaboration during critical events, exemplifying the impact of Connectors in addressing societal challenges.
Corroborators are people who reach decisions under pressure using logic, critical thinking and data. It was a hunger for data and passion for analysis that enabled the gifted mathematician Katherine Johnson to calculate the trajectory of the first US crewed earth orbit, the moon landings, and the return path for the Apollo 13 crew—a phenomenal responsibility, and one that relied on her rigour in testing and retesting the speculations of NASA’s aeronautical engineers.
Conductors are people who bring all the others together and orchestrate their efforts to make a whole out of the parts and achieve common goals. Sports managers and school coaches routinely do this to create winning teams. Indian eco-activist Vandana Shiva conducted large-scale systems change by advocating for sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and the preservation of community and indigenous knowledge. By pushing for transformations away from industrialised farming and food production towards more environmentally and socially grounded models, she has demonstrated skills as a conductor throughout her career, using her abilities not just to drive change, but to facilitate it.