The Innovator’s DNA

The Innovator's DNAAre Innovators born or made? That is the question authors Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen address in their new book, “The Innovator’s DNA”. Through an eight-year study with data collected from 500 innovators and 5,000 executives in 75 countries including leaders from Amazon, Apple, Google, Skype and Virgin Group, the authors attempt to find the common denominator of what makes an Innovation leader. They unearthed a key finding: that innovation is not just a product of the mind but also of behaviors. Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen found specific patterns of behavior exemplified by top innovators around the world. These five behaviors can be emulated to improve innovative thinking – proving that creativity is not just a genetic predisposition.

The five behaviors that innovators demonstrate are:

  1. Associating: Drawing connections between questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields. Innovative thinkers can connect ideas that others find unrelated.
  2. Questioning: Posing queries that challenge common wisdom. For innovators, questions that provoke insight typically outnumber answers.
  3. Observing: Scrutinizing the behavior of customers, suppliers and competitors to identify new ways of doing things.
  4. Networking: Meeting people with different ideas and perspectives. Innovators spend time talking to people who may offer radically different points of view.
  5. Experimenting: Constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge. Innovators seek new experiences by visiting new places, trying new things and seeking new information that can trigger ideas later on.

By utilizing the five skills, individuals can act differently in order to think differently – outside the box – to reach those “aha” moments. The study found that while most senior executives excel at delivery or execution skills, they lack in discovery skills. Innovation starts with the people at the top, who need to take the responsibility of achieving Innovation into their own hands. “It doesn’t matter if you have the DNA, Innovation is not easy or for the faint of heart. The CEO is – or should be – the Chief Innovation Officer, who needs to walk the walk and be engaged in the process to serve as a role model for the rest of the organization. Leaders like Steve Jobs say it all,” explains Robert Brands, author of “Robert Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival.”

Senior executives of the world’s most innovative companies such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com and A.G. Lafley of Proctor & Gamble spend at least 50% of their time every week thinking of innovative ideas that will generate profits for their companies. The authors conclude that when it comes to creativity, all roads lead back to the individual – because Innovators are made – through active personal endeavors.

“The Innovator’s DNA” is a helpful guide that includes self assessments and practical tips for developing the skills of an Innovator, and addresses the people, processes and philosophies required to sustain that.