The Future of Innovation

Developing Your Inner Innovator

Hal Gregersen, Jeff Dyer, and Clayton M. Christensen

Years ago, Arnold Glasow, an entrepreneur and humorist, concluded that “improvement begins with I.” We couldn’t agree more when it comes to becoming an innovative leader. Our book, The Innovator’s DNA, distills the results of our research on how the most innovative leaders at the most innovative companies in the world develop disruptive ideas. Our interviews with over 100 high profile innovators (like Jeff Bezos at Amazon) and surveys of more than 5,000 executives and entrepreneurs uncovered five powerful discovery skills. 

Innovators question the status quo, observe like anthropologists, network for new ideas, and experiment by trying out new things, taking things apart, and testing out prototypes. Then they engage in associational thinking by connecting the unconnected to get innovative solutions. In short, innovators consistently act differently to think differently.

To start, we suggest three steps. 1) Assess your discovery skills strengths; 2) Identify a compelling innovation challenge that matters, and 3) Practice your discovery skills ruthlessly. When combined, these steps can help you — and your team — build the relevant innovation skills required to make a bigger, better impact at work and beyond.

Step 1: Assess Your Discovery Skills

To get a quick snapshot of how strong your discovery skills are today, take a moment to answer the following 10 questions.  Remember to answer based on your actual behaviors, not what you would like to do. (You can also visit this web site to complete a more comprehensive 70-item online self-assessment or a 360-assessment to get a more refined, specific sense of your discovery skill strengths.)

Assessing Your Overall Discovery Skill Strength

1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neither agree nor disagree; 4 = agree; 5 = strongly agree

  1. Frequently, my ideas or perspectives diverge radically from others’ perspectives.
  2. I regularly ask questions that challenge the status quo.
  3. New ideas often come to me when I am directly observing how people interact
    with products and services.
  4. I often find solutions to problems by drawing on solutions or ideas developed in other industries, fields, or disciplines.
  5. I frequently experiment to create new ways of doing things.
  6. I regularly talk with a diverse set of people (e.g., from different business functions, organizations, industries, geographies, etc.) to find and refine new ideas.
  7. I attend conferences (on my areas of expertise as well as unrelated areas) to meet new people and understand what issues are facing them.
  8. I actively seek to identify emerging trends by reading books, articles, magazines, blogs and so on.
  9. I frequently ask “what if” questions that provoke exploration of new possibilities and frontiers.
  10. I regularly observe the activities of customers, suppliers or other organizations to get new ideas.

To score your survey, add your scores together from all 10 items. You score very high on discovery skills if your total score is 45 or above, high on discovery if your score is 40–45, moderate to high on discovery if your score is between 35 and 40, moderate to low if you score 29–34; you score low on discovery if your score is 28 or less.

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