The Harvard Business Review this month features a fascinating piece by Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University, Hal Gregersen of Insead, and the omnipresent Clayton Christensen, entitled “The Innovator’s DNA.” The authors have completed a six-year study, summarized in the article, involving an in-depth analysis of 25 innovators and a further survey of 3,500 others who were connected to innovation in some way. The study attempted to identify key skills that separated great innovators from the rest of us.
The authors found five key innovative skills – Associating, Questioning, Observing, Experimenting and Networking.
In the article, a chart compares four iconic modern innovators (Michael Dell, Pierre Omidyar, Scott Cook and Mike Lazaridis) with noninnovators, in each of the five skills. The innovators are much above the noninnovators in each dimension, but in two skills the difference is stark: Associating (according to the authors, “the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields”) and Questioning (”ask[ing] questions that challenge common wisdom”). Noninnovators fell below the 50th percentile on these dimensions, while the icons were with one exception above the 95th percentile of those studied.