The Innovator’s DNA: Five Skills That Result in Big Ideas

“It’s the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children.”

The Innovator's Dilemma BookIn a study reported in the Harvard Business Review, three scholars have identified what they say are five specific skills commonly used by innovative CEOs. They discuss their findings here.

According to Jeffrey H. Dyer, a professor at Brigham Young University and a co-author of the study, the most innovative CEOs spend 50 percent more time on these “Discovery Skills” than the rest of us working stiffs.

“All the innovative entrepreneurs…talked about being triggered, or having what you might call ‘eureka’ moments,” he explained. “In describing how they came up with a product or business idea, they would use phrases like ‘I saw someone doing this, or I overheard someone say that.'” That’s when he understood that creative executives have an inquisitiveness that causes them to search for new ideas all around them.

Co-author Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard Business School agrees. “I spent 20 years studying great global leaders, and that was the big common denominator. It’s the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children.”

So, since you’re wondering, here are the five skills:

  1. Question: asking more questions, especially ones that challenge the status quo.
  2. Observe: watching people, especially potential customers, to observe how they react to a product or service.
  3. Experiment: being eager to learn new skills, or to work in areas outside their comfort zone or culture.
  4. Network: connecting with others simply for the opportunity to uncover fresh ideas and perspectives.
  5. Associate: easily making connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or problems.

Check out their presentation slides to see what magic the research team identified in these skills.

Authors of the study were Jeffrey H. Dyer of BYU, Hal. B. Gregersen of INSEAD and Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard Business School.


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