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.

World’s Most Innovative Companies

While researching “The Innovator’s DNA” my co-authors and I developed a methodology to identify the world’s most innovative companies so we could study the habits of those leaders. In doing so, we created the World’s Most Innovative Companies, which is essentially the premium the stock market gives a company because investors expect it to launch new offerings and enter new markets that will generate even bigger income streams.

Each spring and fall, in collaboration with HOLT/Credit Suisse, we use the Innovation Premium to rank the world’s public companies to create the Forbes “World’s Most Innovative Companies” and “World’s Most Innovative Growth Companies” lists. Through this work, I have the opportunity to meet with founders and CEOs of top companies like ASOS, Tesla, and Godrej to dig deeper into their stories and how they innovate. I then regularly meet with the leaders of the most innovative companies.

To see which companies topped this year’s lists, thanks to its high innovation premium, click here. You can read a more detailed explanation of our work around innovative companies and leaders in “The Innovators DNA.”

Innovative Companies & New Ideas

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Building Your Innovator’s DNA

In an interactive half-day to two-day high impact workshop, I help individuals and teams gain deeper insight into the personal skills and organizational practices that foster the creation of successful new business models, products, services, and processes. Participants gain actionable insights to improve their innovation skills and build a path to creatively solve problems using the behaviors of disruptive innovators. For more information, contact Stern Speakers.

Assessing Your Innovator’s DNA

How innovative are you? Put your own innovation abilities to the test: complete one of the following Innovator’s DNA Assessments to better understand the personal innovation strengths you already have – and what you can do to make them even better:

  • The Innovator’s DNA Self-Assessment:  The Innovator’s DNA Self-Assessment tools provide an overview of your discovery, delivery, and leading innovation skills. Following completion, you will receive The Innovator’s DNA Development Guide to assist you in analyzing your report results. The Development Guide will also provide specific behavioral suggestions to help you improve specific “Discovery,” “Delivery,” or “Leading Innovation” skills.
  • The Innovator’s DNA 360 Assessment: The Innovator’s DNA 360 Assessment provides a self- assessment—plus an assessment from your supervisors, peers, and direct reports—of your performance on each of the skills listed above. Like the Self-Assessment, you will receive a Development Guide to analyze your results and improve your specific innovation skills.

Are you an innovator, developer or executor?

Watch this video to learn more about which of the five innovative skills you use to solve challenging problems, discover new markets and fuel economic growth.

The Innovator’s Accelerator

How can you and your organization become more innovative? To help leaders develop the discovery skills and maintain their competitive edge, my co-authors and I, in partnership with online education leader Apollo Group and its subsidiary, University of Phoenix, created The Innovator’s AcceleratorTM. This online learning experience is delivered in two distinct configurations, Social Learning and Blended Learning:

  • IAc – Social Learning: Through 12 hours of independent learning and skills development, IAc will accelerate the ability of individuals in your organization to become more innovative
  • IAx – Blended Learning: This 30-hour independent learning and collaborative innovation challenge includes a dedicated IA coach to engage learners, support success and create the foundation for an innovative culture

Visit to learn more.

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Innovator’s Accelerator

Observation Leads to Innovation