Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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In the Economist review of our book, The Innovator’s DNA, the reviewer wondered whether genius-level innovators such as Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, and Steve Jobs challenge the idea that working adults can really learn how to think differently and become innovators.
We don’t think so. Remember, it was Steve Jobs who jump-started the now-famous “Think Different” advertising campaign as a way to inspire consumers and recharge Apple’s innovation efforts. It worked. Reflecting back on the campaign, Jobs said “The whole purpose of the ‘Think Different’ campaign was that people had forgotten what Apple stood for, including the employees.” And the best way to tell people what Apple stood for was to tell them who the company’s heroes were. The campaign reminded everyone — consumers and employees alike — that the “crazy ones…see things differently.”
Reams of relevant research (including our own) proves Jobs right. Innovators excel at connecting the unconnected. They engage in associational thinking. At Apple (or at any innovative company), they take a little bit of this, sprinkle in a little bit of that and that and that to churn out market-busting ideas such as iTunes, and the iPod, iPhone, and iPad (along with a few market disasters like the G4 Cube computer).
But neither Steve Jobs nor Apple nor any other high-profile innovator or company has a corner on the think-different market. In fact, our study of over 5,000 entrepreneurs and executives shows the opposite: almost anyone who consistently makes the effort to think different can think different.
Take Gavin Symanowitz, whom we recently met in South Africa. His original business, GetAGreatBoss.com, lets great managers showcase their skills to attract talent and boost their own careers by conducting a 360 review of the manager by his or her staff, and if the results are favorable, he links the results to job ads that the boss is trying to fill, making these job ads far more appealing. By connecting the unconnected — 360 leadership assessments and help wanted ads — Symanowitz forged an online business that sprouted in Africa and now grows globally.
Innovators (of new businesses, products, and processes) spend almost 50% more time trying to think different compared to non-innovators. In other words, non-innovators do occasionally think different (answering “at least a little bit” to questions like “I creatively solve challenging problems by drawing on diverse ideas or knowledge” to hit the 48th percentile in our global database). Yet compared to innovators, they just don’t do it as often. Generating new business ideas that make a positive financial impact takes time. Innovators who spend more time thinking different (scoring in the 70-80th percentile) consistently engage in associational thinking by “agreeing” or “strongly agreeing” with questions like the one above and they deliver innovative results more frequently than those who don’t. It’s that simple.
If thinking different can make such a positive difference, why don’t more people spend more time doing it? Researchers at Harvard Medical School opened our eyes to one compelling answer. Sixty to eighty percent of adults find the task of thinking different uncomfortable and some even find it exhausting. When adults must connect the unconnected through associational thinking, it wears them out. Why? Because most adults have lost the skills they once had (just watch almost every four-year old who relishes the chance to think different. And all of us were once four-year olds). We don’t lose this skill because genetic coding automatically shuts it down on our twenty-first birthday. Instead, most of us grew up in a world where thinking different was punished instead of praised (at home or school). So while roughly one-third of anyone’s innovation capacity comes from their genetic endowment, two-thirds of it is still driven by the environment. So here are a few simple suggestions to ratchet up your associating skills, the essence of thinking different.
[Here are two suggestions.]
Shake it up. When associations don’t come naturally, try forcing them to surface unnaturally — by shaking things up randomly. For example, try the Idea Generator app, which randomly combines three words together when you shake your smart phone. Shake it again and three more random words show up. You can get even more creative combinations by adding your own words to the mix (including foreign ones) and seeing what you get. For example, we just shook up the app while writing this blog and got three words — perforated, bite-sized, and humane — which might help generate a new idea. Perhaps putting bite-sized perforations into a new product could make a difference. That’s exactly what David Mullany did in 1953 by transforming a solid plastic ball into the Wiffle ball, a completely new product with bite-sized perforations in it.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that if adults practice associational thinking long enough, the task no longer exhausts but energizes them. Like most skill-based activities, if we slog away at it and practice over and over again, the task becomes not life taking but life giving. And that’s when the most creative ideas pop out.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Jeff Dyer is the Horace Beesley Professor of Strategy at the Marriott School, Brigham Young University; Hal Gregersenis a professor of leadership at INSEAD. They are co-authors with Clayton M. Christensen of the The Innovator’s DNA. To check out more blog posts by them, please click here.
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Renowned innovation expert and HBS Professor, Clay Christensen, and Hal Gregersen, INSEAD Senior
Affiliate Professor, share secrets to cultivating innovation prowess throughout your organization
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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Some people are natural innovators, right? They discover new products, services, and entire businesses with little effort, while the rest of us can’t keep up. Wrong.
Innovative capabilities are not innate, argues HBS professor Clay Christensen and INSEAD Professor Hal Gregersen and their co-author in The Innovator’s DNA. Anyone can master disruptive innovation by developing five skills:
1. Associating: Drawing connections among 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. Experimenting: Constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge.
5. Networking: Mixing with people who have different ideas and perspectives.
In this interactive Harvard Business Review webinar on October 19, Professors Christensen and Gregersen will explain how you and your team can cultivate these skills to become more innovative.
Professors Christensen and Gregersen will share how to generate ideas using these skills, collaborate with “delivery-driven” colleagues to implement ideas, and build innovation strength throughout an organization. Attendees will learn to rate their own “Innovator’s DNA.”
Having coined the term and the concept “disruptive innovation,” Professor Christensen is a world-renowned expert on innovation. Gather your team on October 19 to hear Professors Christensen and Gregersen detail how your company can use his insights to your advantage. No team seeking to develop its innovation prowess should skip this opportunity.
After the event, you will receive a Key Learnings Summary, which captures the key insights from the event.
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Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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Forbes recently published our list of the world’s most innovative companies in which we ranked companies based upon their innovation premium. But why do some companies have a high innovation premium while others do not? During our study we learned that a leader’s everyday actions are one of the most powerful signals to their team and organization that innovation truly matters.
Dozens of senior executives at large organizations revealed to us in interviews that in most cases they did not feel personally responsible for coming up with innovations. They felt only a responsibility to “facilitate the process,” to make sure someone else in the company was doing it. But in the world’s most innovative companies, senior executives like Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Marc Benioff (salesforce.com), and A.G. Lafley (Procter & Gamble) did not just delegate innovation; they kept their own hands deep in the innovation process.
Leaders at companies with high innovation premiums, in fact, landed at about the 88th percentile on our Innovator’s DNA assessment, which measures the five skills of disruptive innovators: questioning, observing, networking, experimenting, and associational thinking. CEOs of average companies, in comparison, scored at about the 68th percentile. Because disruptive leaders excelled at the Innovator’s DNA skills, they valued the same skills in other people. So much so that others within the organization felt that reaching top executive positions required personal innovation capability. This expectation helped foster an innovation focus throughout the company.
Apple’s performance under Steve Jobs powerfully illustrates that point. During Jobs’ first tenure at Apple from 1980–1985, he was personally involved in innovation and helped the company reach an innovation premium of 37%. Jobs, in fact, got key ideas for the Macintosh computer (mouse and GUI) during his visit to Xerox PARC. He recalled “being shown a rudimentary graphical user interface. It was incomplete, some of it wasn’t even right, but the germ of the idea was there. Within ten minutes, it was so obvious that every computer would work this way someday.” Jobs was so impressed that he took his entire programming team on a tour of PARC and returned to Apple hell-bent on developing a personal computer that both incorporated and improved upon the technologies he and his team saw. Jobs assembled a team of brilliant engineers, gave them the needed resources, and infused the Macintosh team with a vision of what was possible. That’s what an innovative leader does.
In stark contrast, the executive team at Xerox lacked the discovery skills necessary to exploit technologies developed in their own company. As PARC scientist Larry Tesler observed, “After an hour looking at demos [Jobs and Apple's programmers] understood our technology and what it meant more than any Xerox executive understood after years of showing it to them.” Jobs agreed with Tesler. “Basically they were copier heads that just had no clue about a computer or what it could do. And so they just grabbed defeat from the greatest victory in the computer industry. Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry today.” No wonder Tesler left PARC and joined Apple. Innovators want to work with other innovators.
Not surprisingly, during Jobs’ hiatus from 1985–1998, Apple’s innovation premium plummeted to an average of about 30%. Apple quit innovating and investors lost confidence in its ability to innovate and grow. When Jobs returned and restructured his senior management team with more discovery-driven capacity, Apple’s innovation engine ignited again. It took a few years to get things back on track, but from 2005–2009 Apple’s innovation premium jumped to 52%.
Similarly, Procter & Gamble performed well as an innovative company — 23% average innovation premium from 1985–2000 — before A.G. Lafley became CEO. But Lafley’s focus boosted P&G’s innovation capability, and during his tenure from 2001–2009 he delivered on average a 35% innovation premium. Lafley’s successor, Bob McDonald, carries on this innovation tradition, posting in 2011 a 33% premium and landing at the number 24 spot on our ranking of the most innovative companies. Lafley, McDonald, and other innovative leaders we studied, consciously set the example by modeling innovation behaviors to help make them matter to others.
As the data suggests, top executives who value innovation need to point their fingers not at others but themselves. They must lead the innovation charge by understanding how innovation works, improving their own discovery skills, and sharpening their ability to foster the innovation of others. Moreover, they must actively populate their organizations with enough discovery-driven innovators to make innovation a team game that translates into tangible and sustainable innovation premiums.
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Jeffrey Dyer is the Horace Beesley Professor of Strategy at the Marriott School, Brigham Young University; Hal Gregersen is a professor of leadership at INSEAD; Clayton Christensen is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the architect of and the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation. They are the co-authors of the The Innovator’s DNA.
How and why disruptive innovators maximize creative impact
As is true of others who have written business books that also offer breakthrough insights, the authors of this one set out to answer an especially important question: “Where do disruptive business models come from?” What Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen concluded is shared in this book. It’s too early to be certain, of course, but I think this book is destined to become a “business classic,” as have so many of the other books that Christensen has authored or co-authored. It is worth noting that The Innovator’s DNA emerged from an eight-year collaborative study, suggesting that its information, insights, and counsel are research-driven, anchored in the real world.
Some of the most valuable material was generated by interviews of dozens of “inventors of revolutionary products and services as well as founders and CEOs of game-changing companies build on innovative ideas.” They also include what they learned from Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Howard Schultz (whom they did not interview) whose innovative thinking has transformed entire industries. “We wanted to understand as much about these people as possible, including the moment (when and how) they came up with the creative ideas that launched new products or businesses.”
The title of this book refers to an aggregate of five primary discovery skills that enable various innovative entrepreneurs and executives to generate breakthrough ideas. “A critical insight from our research is that one’s ability to generate innovative ideas is not merely the function of the mind, but also a function of behaviors. This is good news for us all because it means that if we change our behaviors, we can change our creative impact.”
It should also be noting that an abundance of entrepreneurial research throughout the past 17-20 years reveals that, in terms of personality traits or psychometric measures, entrepreneurs do not differ significantly from typical (even traditional) business executives. My take is that almost anyone in almost any workplace can develop the five discovery skills. The extent and velocity of that development will largely depend on leadership. “The bottom line: If you want innovation [enterprise wide], you need creativity skills within the top management team of your company.”
The co-authors include a disclaimer (sort of): “First, engaging in the discovery skills doesn’t ensure financial success…Second, failure (in a financial sense) often results from not being vigilant in engaging all the discovery skills…Third, we spotlight different innovators and innovative companies to illustrate key ideas or principles, but not [repeat NOT] to set them up as perfect examples of how to be innovative.”
The five Discovery Skills are hardly head-snappers: Associating with stimuli (mind, heart, and five senses); Questioning anything and everything, especially one’s assumptions and premises; Observing with intent and intensity, noting what many others miss; Networking by connecting people as well as dots while accessing new (i.e. unfamiliar) resources; and Experimenting (e.g. test the untested, disassemble and deconstruct, prototype, add new knowledge). In the most innovative organizations or portions thereof, all five are institutionalized in terms of incentives and rewards, division of labor, allocating resources, transparency, cross-functional collaboration, recognition/celebration, and (yes) protection for prudent but bold risk-takers.
Not everyone is willing and/or able to thrive in such a culture. Disruption is by nature messy, unpredictable, confusing, upsetting, and often threatening. When Joseph Schumpeter introduced the process of “creative destruction,” his ultimate objective was, in fact, creative creation. Just as Albert Einstein urges us to make everything as simple as possible but no simpler, Schumpeter urges us to destroy everything except what is essential…and then build on that. The authors of this book urge us to strengthen the five skills through individual and team initiatives that are guided and informed by a business model that, if it is designed properly, will be continuously self-disruptive.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Peter Maulick for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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These days, you’re as likely to see “innovative” on any given job description as you are to see “strong communication skills” or “team player.” But how do you hire innovators?
Take this anecdote: Our innovation consultancy recently played host to a rather unusual job interview when a candidate came to us after selling his company, a premium brand of Cachaça (the Brazilian liquor). While still in college, the candidate conceived the brand, sourced it, packaged it, imported it, and distributed it. For his interview, he hosted a Cachaça happy hour in our office, bringing in a bartender and the fresh fruits required to prepare Brazil’s signature cocktails.
We recognized that when seeking an innovator, you don’t just want to know if a candidate has the skills you need — you want to see how those skills are applied to real-world commercial objectives. Having ideas is only part of what makes an effective innovator. Being able to execute on an idea — transforming blue-sky notions into tangible offerings — is the other half of the innovation equation. No matter how big the idea is: if it isn’t doable, it’s not an innovation.
Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen identify five “discovery skills” that make for innovative mindsets: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking.
Detecting these skills in isolation is a good sign, but it says little about a candidate’s innovation capability. How these skills are leveraged is the key to execution, and the challenge is to design an interview process that tests the application of these core skills.
Our Cachaça candidate’s presentation demonstrated these skills to us, but how do we assess candidates who don’t come in with a full bar? Here are two hiring exercises designed to apply the innovator’s discovery skills towards real-world commercial objectives, going beyond idea generation all the way to revenue generation:
From Discovery to Strategy: This exercise simulates the process of unlocking market opportunities through innovation — ask for a solution to a real-life problem. For example, we’ll ask candidates to develop an innovation strategy for the CEO of a major beverage company, synthesizing insights from the market conditions outlined in a beverage industry trend report (which we provide). Once the candidate has devised a strategy, have her present it to your team as if she is presenting to the CEO. Evaluate her not only on the quality of the insights driving the strategy, but on her understanding of the complexities surrounding its implementation and her ability to determine the commercial potential of the idea. Is it just a good idea, or is it a viable, sustainable business?
From Discovery to Invention: Try an exercise in applied invention I like to call “You in a Bottle.” Have candidates invent a drink based on core attributes of their own personalities, and then design an offering for it. Their ability to glean consumer insight from within is crucial to the task. The offering should at once communicate the candidate’s individuality and appeal to a broader market. Most importantly, the candidate should define a profitable market for his product.
With exercises like these that evaluate an innovator’s ability to make the leap from idea to innovation, you can be sure you’re building teams capable of turning transformational innovation into the repeatable, scalable discipline that every business needs.
And that’s something we can all toast to.
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Pete Maulik is Chief Operating Officer and Head of Commercial Strategy at Fahrenheit 212, an innovation consultancy based in New York. He has spoken and written extensively on innovation.