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Five “discovery skills”
separate true innovators
from the rest of us.
| by Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen,
and Clayton M. Christensen
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Harvard Business Review 61
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The Innovator’s DNA
“How do I ﬁnd INNOVATIVE PEOPLE
for my organization? And how can
I become more innovative myself?”
These are questions that stump senior executives,
who understand that the ability to innovate is the
“secret sauce” of business success. Unfortunately,
most of us know very little about what makes one
person more creative than another. Perhaps for this
reason, we stand in awe of visionary entrepreneurs
like Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, eBay’s
Pierre Omidyar, and P&G’s A.G. Laﬂey. How do
these people come up with groundbreaking new
ideas? If it were possible to discover the inner workings of the masters’ minds, what could the rest of us learn about how innovation really happens?
In searching for answers, we undertook a sixyear study to uncover the origins of creative – and often disruptive – business strategies in particularly innovative companies. IN BRIEF
Our goal was to put innovative
The habits of Steve Jobs, Jeff
entrepreneurs under the microBezos, and other innovative CEOs scope, examining when and how
reveal much about the underpinthey came up with the ideas on nings of their creative thinking.
which their businesses were built.
Research shows that ﬁve discovWe especially wanted to examine ery skills distinguish the most inhow they differ from other execunovative entrepreneurs from other tives and entrepreneurs: Someexecutives.
one who buys a McDonald’s franDOING
chise may be an entrepreneur,
» Questioning allows innovators
but building an Amazon requires
to break out of the status quo and
different skills altogether. We
consider new possibilities.
studied the habits of 25 innova» Through observing, innovators tive entrepreneurs and surveyed
detect small behavioral details –
more than 3,000 executives and
in the activities of customers, sup500 individuals who had started pliers, and other companies – that
innovative companies or invented
suggest new ways of doing things.
» In experimenting, they relentWe were intrigued to learn that lessly try on new experiences and
at most companies, top executives
explore the world.
do not feel personally responsible
» And through networking with
for coming up with strategic innoindividuals from diverse backvations. Rather, they feel responsigrounds, they gain radically ble for facilitating the innovation
process. In stark contrast, senior
executives of the most innovative
» The four patterns of action
companies – a mere 15% in our
together help innovators associate
study – don’t delegate creative
to cultivate new insights.
work. They do it themselves.
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But how do they do it? Our research led us to
identify ﬁve “discovery skills” that distinguish the
most creative executives: associating, questioning,
observing, experimenting, and networking. We
found that innovative entrepreneurs (who are also
CEOs) spend 50% more time on these discovery activities than do CEOs with no track record for innovation. Together, these skills make up what we call the innovator’s DNA. And the good news is, if
you’re not born with it, you can cultivate it.
What Makes Innovators Different?
Innovative entrepreneurs have something called
creative intelligence, which enables discovery yet
differs from other types of intelligence (as suggested by Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences). It is more than the cognitive...
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