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Jeff Dyer
Hal Gregersen
Clayton M. Christensen
• Innovation is the act of innovating,
introducing of new things or methods.
Means something new or different
introduced. Most of us believe that some
people, like Jobs, are simply born with
creative genes, while others are not.
Innovators are supposedly right brained,
meaning that they are genetically endowed
with creative abilities. The rest of us are left
brained—logical, linear thinkers, with little
or no ability to think creatively. If you
believe this, we're going to tell you that you
are largely wrong. At least within the realm
of business innovation, virtually everyone
has some capacity for creativity and
innovative thinking.
The ability to be innovative is not based
primarily on genetics. At the same time, the
term using the DNA metaphor to describe the
inner workings of innovators. Recent
developments in the field of gene therapy
show that it is possible to modify and
strengthen your physical DNA, for example, to
help ward off diseases. Likewise, it is
metaphorically possible to strengthen your
personal innovator's DNA.
Discovery Skill #1
• iNNOVATORS THINK DIFFERENTLY (to be grammatically
different byconnecting theunconnected. Einstein once
called cre ative thinking"combinatorial play" andsaw
itas"theessential fea ture in productive thought."
Associating—or the ability to make surprising
connections across areas ofknowledge, industries, even
geographies—is an often-taken-for-granted skill
amongthe inno vatorswestudied.Innovatorsactively
pursuediverse newinforma tion and ideas through
questioning, observing, networking, and
experimenting—the keycatalysts forcreative
• Innovative leaders at well-known companies such as
Apple, Amazon, and Virgin do exactly the same thing.
They cross- pollinate ideas in their own heads and in
others. They connect wildlydifferent ideas,objects,
services, technologies, and disci plinesto dishup
newand unusualinnovations."Creativityiscon necting
things,"as Steve Jobsonce put it. He continued, "When
you askcreative peoplehowtheydid something,they feel
a little guilty because theydidn'treally
doit,theyjustsawsomething... theywereableto
connectexperiences they've had and synthesize new
things."2 This is how innovatorsthink different, or what
we call associating,3 a cognitive skill at the core of the
innovator's DNA. In this chapter,we look more
deeplyinto the workings of associationalthinking and
offersome techniques for developing this cognitive
• If innovatorshaveone thing in common,it isthat
theyloveto collect ideas,like kids loveto
collectLegos. Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling
advised that "the best wayto get a good idea is to
get a lot of ideas." Thomas Edisonkept overthirty-
fivehundred notebooksof ideasduringthe
courseofhislifetime and setregu lar"ideaquotas"to
keepthetap open.Billionaire RichardBranson
• Conceptually, as innovators increase the number
of building-block ideas, they substantially
increase the numberofways they might combine
ideas to create something surprisingly new
Discovery Skill #2
• aNY QUESTIONS?" MOST OF us have heard i^^mthat phrase
hundreds, ifnotthousands of times. Sometimes it comes at
the end ofa presentation or meeting, and most
ofusshuffleawaybecausewe don't really think it is an open
invitation to question. But other times, you may have real
questions—about why things are the way they are and how
they might be different—but you don't ask them. Youneed
to. If dis ruptive innovators occupied the same room, they
would fill the empty space with thought-provoking
questions. Why? Because questioning ishow they do their
work. It isthe creativecatalyst for the other discovery
behaviors: observing, networking, and exper imenting.
Innovators ask lots of questions to better understand what
isandwhat might be.They ignore safequestions andoptfor
• crazyones, challenging the statusquo and often
threateningthe powers that be with uncommon
intensity and frequency.
• Questionsare a criticalcatalyst to creative insights.
Yet, questions alone do notproduce innovation.
They are necessary but insufficient. In the
absence of active observation, networking, or
experimen tation, theoretical innovators become
what sportswriters in the United States
mightrefer to asarmchair quarterbacks. Theyask
clever questions fromthe sidelines and may
naively believe that oneortwomagical questions
will surface disruptive ideas, butthey rarely,
ifever, playin the real-life game ofinnovation
• We found that innovators were more likely to
successfully launch innovative products, services,
or businesses when they combined
anongoinginstinctto formulate and askthe
• tions with other innovator's DNA skills. In other
words, leaders whoaskquestions as theyobserve
discover morethan thosewho dont. Leaders who
askquestions asthey networkfor new ideas
discover morethan those who don't. Leaderswho
ask questions as theyexperiment discover
morethanthosewhodon't.Ultimately, questioning
combined with the other discovery behaviors can
truly turbocharge your innovation results
Discovery Skill #3
• mOST INNOVATORS ARE intense observers. They
carefullywatch theworld aroundthem, andas they
observe how things work, they often become
sensitized to what doesnt work. Theymayalso observe
that people in a dif ferent environment have found a
different—often superior—way to solve aproblem. As
theyengage in these types ofobservations, theybegin
toconnect common threads across unconnected data,
which mayprovoke uncommon business ideas. Such
observations often engage multiple senses and are
frequently prompted by
• compelling questions.
• Consider, for example, howRatan Tata, chairmanof India's
Tata Group, gained a powerful insight that inspired the
world's cheapest car, the Tata Nano. Throughout Tata's life,
he had seen
• thousands offamilies riding scooters inIndia. On one very
rainy day in Mumbai, India, in 2003, however, he noticed a
lower- middle-class man riding ascooter with anolder child
standing in the front, behindthe handlebars. The man's wife
sat sidesaddle on thebackwithanotherchildonherlap.All
fourweresoaked to the boneastheyhurriedhome. Tata saw
withhiseyes andlistened withhisheartto notice what
hehadpreviously failed to notice. Heasked himself, "Why
can'tthisfamily owna carandavoid the rain?" Or, put
anotherway, he thoughtabouta job that needed doing (in
this case, the job wasto create safe,affordable trans
portationforafamily thatcould notafford tobuyacar, but
could buy a scooter).
• Tips for Developing Observation Skills
• Tip#/; Observe customers Hone and sharpenyour observing skills
byschedulingregular observation excursions to carefullywatch how certain
customers experience yourproductorservice. (Thiscouldbedoneinfifteen- to thirty-
minute increments). Observe realpeoplein real-life sit uations. Tryto
graspwhattheylike andhate.Search forthingsthat make life easier or more difficult
for them. What job are they try ing to get done?Which of their functional, social,
or emotional needs is your product or service not meeting?What is surprising
about their behavior and different than expected? Ask the ten questions
wesuggestedearlierin the chapter.In short, become an anthropologist and
intensely observe a customer or a potential customer to experiencean entire
product or servicelifecycle.
• 110
• Tip#2; Observe companies Pick acompany to observe andfollow. Maybe it isa
company youadmire suchasApple, Google, orVirgin. Itcould beastart-up
withaninnovative business model or disruptive technology. Orit could be a
particularlytough, innovative competitor.Treatthe companyasyouwouldabusiness
school case. Findout everything you canabout whatthe company doesand howit
doesit. If pos sible, figure out a way to schedule a visit to the companyand
examinefirsthand its strategy, operations, and products to look forcross-pollination
opportunities. As youlearnnewthings about it, ask:"Arethere any ideasthat could
be transferred, with some adaptation, toourcompany orindustry? How
isthisstrategy, tac tic,or activityrelevantto myjob,mycompany,mylife? Arethere
ideas hereforanewwho, what, or how in myindustry?"
• Tip #3;Observe whateverstrikesyourfancy Setaside
tenminutes each daytosimply observe something in
tensively. Take careful notes aboutyourobservations.
Thentry to figure out howwhat you areseeing might
lead to a newstrategy, product, service, or production
process. When you are out and about watching the
world,jot downyour keyobservationsand thoughts on a
notepad, and review your notes later,after a little
timehaspassed. Keep a small camera (still or video)
withyouto takepictures ofinteresting things. Thecamera
canremindyouto observe and note whatisgoing on
around you. (Amazon's Bezos confided that he often
takespictures of "reallybad innovations" to get ideasfor
things that might be done better.)
Tip#4; Observe with all your senses Asyou observe customers, companies, or
whatever, actively engage more than one sense (see, smell, hear, touch,
taste). One structuredwayto dothisisthroughDialogue in theDark(aprac
tice developed by Andreas Heinecke) and Dialogue in Silence
• 111 Observing
• (a practice developed byHeinecke and hiswife Orna Cohen).In thesetours
byvisually or hearing-impaired guides, guests experi ence darkened or
silent environments (ranging from permanent exhibitionsto
restaurantslocatedthroughout the world)and enter a completely different
worldof eitherdarkness or silence. Aless structured approachto engaging
yoursenses isto simplyand in tentionally become aware of your wider
range of senses. For ex ample,payattention to whatyou smell nexttime
you'revisiting with customers (as Schultz did in Italy) or eat your next
dinner in slowmotion, slowly savoring every biteand focusing onlyon the
taste,texture, and smellof the food.Or noticehow a productreally feels
asyoutouch it (when eitherusingit or tryingto understand howit
works).Asyoulearn howto observe, paycloseattention to
anycreativeinsightsthe experience might trigger. Besure to cap ture
observations (sights, smells, sounds, touches,and tastes) in your
ideajournal and explore where the insights mightleadyou
Discovery Skill #4
• T:HINKING OUTSIDE THE box often requires link ing the
ideas in your area of knowledge with thoseof
otherswhoplayin different boxes, whoareoutsideyour
sphere. Innovators gain aradically different perspective
when they devotetime and energyto findingand
testingideasthrough a net work of diverse individuals.
Unliketypical delivery-driven execu
• tives who network to access resources, sell themselves
or their companies, or boosttheircareers, innovators
goout of theirway to meetpeoplewithdifferent
backgrounds andperspectives to ex
• tend their own knowledge.
• Some ofyoumaybethinking: "I'magood networker.
ButI'mnot particularly innovative." Thatmay well
betrue.Butit'sprobably because youarelike
mostsuccessful executives whoarewhatwe
• call resource networkers, rather than idea networkers.
Most exec
• utives network to sell themselves, to sell their
companies, or to buildrelationships withpeople
whopossess desired resources. In contrast, innovators
are lesslikelyto network for resourcesor ca reer
progression; rather, they actively tapinto new ideas
andin sights by talking with people who have diverse
ideas and perspectives. (See figure 5-1.) Our research
oninnovators revealed that start-up entrepreneurs and
corporate entrepreneurs are
• slightlybetter at ideanetworkingthan product
inventorsare,and quiteabitbetterthanprocess
inventors andnoninnovators. Ifyou
newventure,networkingisacritical skill, not
onlyforgenerating newideas but also
formobilizing the
• resources to launch new ventures. Overall,
innovators score at around the seventy-
seventh percentile, whereas noninnovators
scorearound the forty-seventh percentile
Discovery Skill #5
• wHEN MOST PEOPLE hear the word experiment,
theythinkofscientists inwhitecoatsrunning experiments in a
lab, or of great inventors like Thomas Edison. Like Edison,
business innovators actively tryout newideasbycre ating
prototypes and launching pilot tests. But unlike scientists,
theydon't workin laboratories; theworldistheirlaboratory.
And beyond just creating prototypes, they try out new
experiences and take apart products and processesin
search of new data that may spark an innovative new idea.
Good experimenters under standthat althoughquestioning,
observing, and networkingpro vide data about the past
(what was) and the present (what is), experimenting is best
suited for generatingdata on what might
• work in the future. In
otherwords,it'sthebestwaytoanswer our "what-
e only wayto getthe necessarydata to
moveforward isto run the exper iment.
• "Experiments are keyto innovation because they
rarelyturn out as you expect,and you learn so
• If you can increasethe number ofexperiments you
try from a hundred to a thousand, you
dramatically increase the number ofinnovations
you produce."
Act different..think different..make a
• By THE END ofoureight-year research project on 'some
ofthe most innovative people and com panies in the
world,wecameto believe that if individuals,teams, and
organizationswant to think different,theymust act
different. Now that you've nearly finished The
Innovator's DNA,wewonder where you stand. Do you
believethat ifyouact different,youcan think
different?That ifyourorganization actsdifferent,it can
think different aswell? Wehope so,because the
innovator's journey, in dividuallyor collectively, can
often feel likea road "lesstraveled."