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Speed Review: The Innovator's DNA

Speed Review: The Innovator's DNA

Speed Review: The Innovator's DNA

Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators

by Jeffrey Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen & Clayton Christensen

The Innovator's DNA builds on what we know about disruptive innovation to show how individuals can develop the skills necessary to move progressively from idea to impact. By identifying behaviors of the world's best innovators, the authors outline five discovery skills that distinguish innovative entrepreneurs and executives from ordinary managers: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking, and Experimenting.


Innovation Under the Microscope

Ratan Tata is the founder and chairman of India's Tata Group, which makes the world's cheapest car, the Tata Nano. Before Tata, cars in India were priced as they were everywhere else, which made them much too expensive for most Indians to own. One day during a rainstorm, Tata watched as an entire family crouched soaking wet on one motor scooter, their only means of transportation. That day, Tata was inspired to revolutionize the Indian automobile industry by creating a car that, at an asking price of $2,200, could be owned by a majority of Indians.

The study of how Tata and other disruptive innovators like him think and act is the subject of the newest book from Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution.

After eight years of research studying and interviewing 500 innovators and approximately 5,000 executives who were not disruptive innovators, Christensen and his co-authors, Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of INSEAD, identified five "discovery" skills — one cognitive, four behavioral — that explain why disruptive innovators think differently from most leaders.

Five Discovery Skills

First and foremost, innovators are skilled in associational thinking, the authors write. They know how to make connections among seemingly unrelated problems, concepts and ideas.

The cognitive skill of associational thinking is triggered by four behavioral skills in which innovators engage more frequently than non-innovators. The first is questioning — innovators have "a passion for inquiry," the authors write. The second skill is observing, as exemplified by the story of the Tata Nano. The third behavioral skill of innovators is networking — innovators will test new ideas across a diverse network of people, especially those with different perspectives. The final skill is experimenting — always trying new things.

From these four behavioral skills, write the authors, emerge the new ideas and thinking that, through associational thinking, leads to innovations.

In contrast to these discovery skills, most non-innovative leaders seem to excel at "delivery" skills, such as analyzing, planning, detail-oriented implementing and disciplined executing.

The DNA of Innovative Organizations

After exploring in depth how leaders can develop the five discovery skills that will allow them to break from the status quo and inspire true innovation, the authors turn to the organizational level. Through their research, the authors found three core elements that make up the DNA of innovative organizations.

The first is people — innovative organizations are led by innovators who expect everyone else to be innovators.

The second element is processes that enable people to innovate.

The third element is philosophies — including "innovation is everyone's job" and "don't be afraid to take small risks" — that encourage innovation.

Well-organized and insightful, The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators will help leaders create the kind of disruptive innovations that Christensen first revealed and described in The Innovator's Dilemma.

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