Most of us would like to be more creative or find ways to develop more innovative solutions to the problems we face, after all it is always held up as a key differentiator for personal and business success. But whilst we know the outcomes we’d like to achieve, few of us have a real understanding of how we could go about being more innovative.
As this is still the season for new year’s resolutions we thought it was helpful to revisit the book ‘The Innovator’s DNA’, which sets out to understand what sets innovative entrepreneurs apart from the average business executive. The authors studied the habits of 25 innovative entrepreneurs (the likes of Steve Jobs, A. G. Lafley, Jeff Bezos etc) and surveyed more than 3,000 executives and 500 individuals who had started innovative companies or invented new products. From this they identified five key ‘discovery skills’ that seemed to distinguish real innovators from the crowd:
1. Associating – drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields
2. Questioning – posing queries that challenge common wisdom
3. Observing – scrutinizing the behavior of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things
4. Networking – meeting people with different ideas and perspectives
5. Experimenting – constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge
The authors critical insight is that the ability to generate innovative ideas is not just a function of the mind, but also a function of behaviours: “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.” When you engage consistently in these five behaviours – associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting – it is shown to trigger the innovative thinking to deliver new businesses, products, services, and/or processes.
So the good news for those of us not naturally born with the mind of a Jobs or a Bezos is that if we change our behaviours – if we make the effort to master these skills – we can improve our innovative impact. And that certainly sounds like a new years resolution worth keeping.