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The five skills that set true innovators apart

Terry Frost, Suspended Forms, Flowers Gallery

In Harvard Business Review, Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen discuss the five "discovery skills" that make true innovators stand out from the crowd.

The authors observe that most of us know very little about what makes one person more creative than another.

Attempting to find some answers, the trio undertook a six-year study to cast light on the origins of creative and disruptive business strategies in especially innovative companies, putting entrepreneurs under the spotlight to examine how and when they came up with the key ideas.

Studying the habits of 25 innovative entrepreneurs and surveying more than 3,000 executives and 500 individuals who had started innovative companies or invented new products, Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen discovered that senior executives of the most innovative companies (15% in the study) do the creative work themselves rather than delegate it.

The research also pinpointed five "discovery skills" that distinguish the most creative executives:

  • Questioning. Innovators can break free of the status quo and open themselves up to new possibilities with a questioning attitude.
  • Observing. Innovators can observe others and detect small details in the behaviour of customers, suppliers and other companies. From those observations they can work out new methods of practice.
  • Experimenting. Innovators are experimental in nature and are constantly trying new experiences and exploring new ideas.
  • Networking. Innovators can gain radically different perspectives by networking with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
  • Associating. Innovators can use the four patterns above together to help them associate and cultivate new insights.

The Innovator’s DNA
Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen
Harvard Business Review