The Innovator’s DNA



Creativity is a skill that can be learned and developed. In order to innovate and push the boundaries, individuals must take risks. Through consistent and calculated effort, you can improve your creative abilities.

17 lessons

The Innovator’s DNA

– by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen –

1) Innovative organizations mirror innovative individuals

Innovative people systematically engage in questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting behaviors to spark new ideas. Similarly, innovative organizations systematically develop processes that encourage questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting by employees.

2) Creativity is learned, not predetermined

Creativity is not just a genetic endowment and not just a cognitive skill. Rather, we’ve learned that creative ideas spring from behavioral skills that you can acquire to catalyze innovative ideas in yourself and in others. Creativity skills are not simply genetic traits endowed at birth, but they can be developed.

3) Develop your associational thinking ability

Associating happens as the brain tries to synthesize and make sense of novel inputs. It helps innovators discover new directions by making connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas. Innovative breakthroughs often happen at the intersection of diverse disciplines and fields. Put simply, innovative thinkers connect fields, problems, or ideas that others find unrelated.

4) Record every idea

If innovators have one thing in common, it is that they love to collect ideas. The more knowledge, experience, or ideas you add from wide-ranging fields to your total stock of ideas, the greater the variety of ideas you can construct by combining these basic knowledge building blocks in unique ways.

5) Question everything

Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquiry. Their queries frequently challenge the status quo. Innovators ask questions to understand how things really are today, why they are that way, and how they might be changed or disrupted. Their questions provoke new insights, connections, possibilities, and directions.

6) Be willing to look stupid

Since childhood, we don’t want to be seen as stupid by or friends or teachers. It is far safer to stay quiet, so we learn not to ask disruptive questions. Many people don’t ask questions because they don’t want to look stupid. Everyone sits around playing along as if they know exactly what is going on.

7) Observe

Innovators are intense observers. They carefully watch the world around them – including customers, products, services, technologies, and companies – and the observations help them gain insights into and ideas for new ways of doing things.

8) Change your environment

Innovators are more likely to visit new environments, including traveling to new countries, visiting different companies, attending unusual conferences, or just visiting museums or other interesting places. You should be willing to get lost on a whim and just see where the journey takes you. Engage all your senses as you search the world for surprises.

9) Expand your network

Innovators spend a lot of time and energy finding and testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals who vary wildly in their backgrounds and perspectives. Rather than simply doing social networking or networking for resources, they actively search for new ideas by talking to people who may offer a radically different view of things.

10) Experiment

Innovators are constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. Experimenters unceasingly explore the world intellectually and experientially, holding convictions at bay and testing hypotheses along the way. They visit new places, try new things, seek new information, and experiment to learn new things.

11) Take things apart

Experimenters love to deconstruct – products, processes, and ideas – to understand how they work. In the process of taking things apart, they also ask questions about why things work the way they do. This often triggers new ideas for how things might work better.

12) Don’t be attached to the outcomes of experiments

Innovators understand – and accept – that the majority of their experiments will not turn out as planned (and indeed may turn out to be a colossal waste of time), but they know that experimenting is often the only way to generate the data required to ultimately achieve success. You must have the courage to fail and learn from your failures.

13) Go trend-spotting

Actively seek to identify emerging trends by reading books, articles, magazines, Web links, blogs, and other sources that specifically focus on identifying new trends and seeing what’s next. Then think about how these trends might lead to an interesting experiment with regard to a new product or service. Figure out a way to creatively conduct that experiment.

14) Innovators have a strong desire to change the status quo

Consider the consistency of language that innovators use to describe their motives. Steve Jobs wanted to ‘put a ding in the universe’. Google co-founder Larry Page has said that he’s out to ‘change the world’. These innovators steer entirely clear of a common cognitive trap called the status quo bias – the tendency to prefer an existing state of affairs to alternative ones. Most of us simply accept the status quo. We may even like routine and prefer not to rock the boat.

15) Cultivate the courage to innovate

You must be willing to embrace a mission for change and take risks to make change happen. Mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, they are an expected part of doing business.

16) Learn new skills

Taking the opportunity to learn new skills in different arenas can boost your innovation capability. Developing new skills in new areas is a great way to build diversity of knowledge in your head.

17) Work in small, autonomous, and diverse teams

The more radical the innovation project, the more autonomy and the more diversity the project team requires. Disruptive innovation demands a team staffed with folks displaying a broad diversity of knowledge in order to generate more radical ideas.