Is an innovator born or made? This was the question I, along with Clayton Christensen and Jeff Dyer, set out to answer in our book, “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.” Through a collaborative eight-year study, we interviewed about two hundred founders & CEOs of game-changing companies to uncover the origins of innovative – and often disruptive – business ideas. From this research, we identified five “discovery skills” used by innovative leaders that distinguish them from the ordinary:
- Questioning: Posing queries that challenge common wisdom
- Observing: Scrutinizing the behavior of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things
- Networking: Meeting people with different ideas and perspectives
- Experimenting: Constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge
- Associating: Making connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields
Yet perhaps our most significant finding is that our ability to generate innovative ideas is not just a function of our minds, but of our behaviors. Thus, by changing our behaviors and regularly incorporating the above “discovery skills” in our daily lives, we can in turn improve our innovation aptitude.
I help individuals and organizations discover and practice their innovation skills in workshops at the MIT Leadership Center and around the world.