Customer Reviews: The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators
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Companies that are seen as innovators command an "innovation premium" in the market, and for good reason. These are the companies that not only adapt to changing conditions, but lead the way through them.

The five discovery skills--building blocks of innovation--that are identified in this book were arrived at through extensive research (8 years and over 100 interviews), which separates it from the bulk of the existing books on innovation that too often trumpet a methodology that worked in one case at one organization as being a universal solution.

The surprising revelation is that these five building blocks are behaviors, not traits that you are either born with or will never have. These are habits that can be learned and mastered through practice.

Although the ideas will be familiar to readers on creativity and innovation, they take on new meaning when presented in this context and prioritized based on the researcher's findings. For example, two of the five behaviors are universal and appear to be essential, while the other three showed up frequently, but not every one of those behaviors is practiced in every case.

The later part of this book gives practical ideas on how to integrate these habits into the 3P's (people, processes, and philosophies) of an organization.

I had high expectations for this book and it did not disappoint.
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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.
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on August 14, 2011
Christensen is one of the great thinkers of our time. Start by reading his book - Innovators Dilemma where he explains what disruptive innovation is. The Innovator's DNA builds on his many previous books by laying out the skills needed to innovate. He not only explains the skills but gives hope that anyone can learn them and explains how.

The 5 skills:

1 - Associate. Innovators associate previously unconnected things to come up with products or ideas. Innovators apply ideas from completely different areas to their field.

2 - Questioning. clearly nothing happens unless someone questions things.

"Question the Unquestionable" Ratan Tata - Tata Group

3 - Observing. "Observation is the biggest game changer" - Scott Cook - founder of Intuit (I have met Scott a few times and he is one of the nicest person you could want to meet. I say this and I do not even like accounting) Obviously learning is greatest when things are observed.

4 - Networking. Again, a key skill for any innovator.

5 - Experiment. This, for me, would be summed up by my Fail Often, Fail Fast, Fail Cheap.

One final quote from the book:

"Innovators like to work for other innovators"

Perhaps that is why whole companies seem to attract high innovation people.
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on August 18, 2011
A Politically Correct Status Quo

It is politically correct in management circles to say that you are "results oriented" or that you "drive for results" in your organization.

The status quo in business schools is to indoctrinate students in the delivery skills of analyzing, planning, detail-oriented implementing, and disciplined executing.

This book and the research upon which it is based disrupts that politically correct status quo.

Clayton Christensen has spent close to two decades creating the research, conceptual, and application foundation of the disruptive innovation body of knowledge. He has been working for more than 8 years with Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen, both gifted researchers, teachers, and consultants in their own right, on this project. These guys are a disruptive "dream team" of contributors.

This book articulates an extension of the disruptive innovation body of knowledge that clearly describes an individual profile of the disruptive innovator and an organizational profile of an organization that makes disruptive innovation happen.

So what makes this book disruptive?

The first thing is timing. It arrives on the scene at a time when innovation is one of the most critical components of a solution to our global financial and organizational mess. If we are to get out of our morass of debt and sluggish growth and respond to the continually emerging challenges of a burgeoning global society it will ride on the backs and wings of innovation. The status quo must be disrupted for us to survive and thrive!

Second is the audacity of the core models. The authors claim that innovation can be learned at both the individual and organizational level. Individuals can increase their ability to discover (Discovery Quotient - DQ) and learn to be more innovative. They cite the four specific behavioral skills of asking questions, engaging in observations, networking with people who have a different point of view, and experimenting to figure out what can work as the common elements of what innovators do. They also identify the cognitive skill of associational thinking, the ability to find connections between ideas that do not seem to be related to each other, as the connection between the behavioral skills and the generation of ideas. They extend their claim that the innovation competency can be learned to the organizational domain by saying that organizations can become more innovative through developing and leading people, designing and implementing processes, and advocating and living by philosophies that support innovation. These two arguments stand in stark contrast to the beliefs and practices of a vast majority of leaders and institutions.

(For a diagram of the Model see [...])

'And all of this is built upon the third source of disruption: research. Their work is based on well-founded research into the "DNA" of the world's leading innovators and the world's most innovative organizations. The authors conducted nearly 100 interviews of world class innovators and their colleagues to get at the heart of what innovators do. They also interviewed and surveyed executives who are not innovators. (Their survey data base has over 5000 respondents in it.) So they have been able to compare and contrast the two populations to more clearly see what it takes to effectively innovate.

They have also done research on business results attributable to innovation. Collaborating with HOLT (a division of Credit Suisse) they were able to craft a measurement called the "innovation premium." This measure identifies if an organization's market capitalization can be accounted for by existing cash flows or if there is an innovation influence on the stock price. By using this measure, they have been able to clearly and objectively identify which organizations are benefiting from innovation.

Yet to Explore

The tension in the balance of influence and power between the leaders with predominantly "Discovery" or "Delivery" mindsets is an area that has yet to be explored. If the premises of this book are sound, and I believe they are, we need to figure out how to manage that tension and balance in order to generate, incubate, and strengthen innovative ideas as we bring them to full fruition in the marketplace. Great ideas that are not delivered upon are simply recreational pursuits that do not build great people, great institutions, and great societies. So there is work yet to do.

Invest Your Time and Effort

This book makes a significant contribution to both the disruptive innovation body of knowledge and the evolving body of practice on innovating disruptively. It is well worth reading, pondering, and acting upon.
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on May 18, 2013
If you believe, everything that can be invented has been invented, and there is no compelling reason for the humanity to continually innovate, then certainly, this is not the book for you. However, you will be glued to The Innovator's DNA - if you are intrigued by questions like: How can I become more innovative myself? How can we infuse a culture of innovation? What is the secret sauce that differentiates the most successful enterprises and innovative individuals? How visionary entrepreneurs like Apple's Steve Jobs, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, eBay's Pierre Omidyar, and P&G's A.G. Lafley come up with groundbreaking new ideas? If you want to bring in a difference to the world around you and improve the quality of lives, then The Innovator's DNA is a hard to put down.

Authored by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gergersen, and Clayton M. Christensen, and published by the Harvard Business Review Press in 2011, The Innovator's DNA, deciphers the mystique genome of disruptive innovators, and simplifies the complex aura that is often woven around innovation, thereby, democratizing the notion of innovation. Based on an eight-year inductive and exploratory, interview-based, research methodology to unravel the origins of creative, and often disruptive business strategies in particularly innovative companies, the authors microscopically examine the habits of innovative entrepreneurs, over 3,000 executives and 500 individuals who had started innovative companies or invented new products/services. The results of this study was first published in a leading academic journal, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, and then later published in another article that was the runner-up for the 2009 Harvard Business Review McKinsey Award.

While the first part of the book focuses on how disruptive innovation can start with you as an individual, the second part deals with the DNA of disruptive organizations and teams. The first six chapters describe how innovative people think differently and act differently to generate creative ideas for new products, services, processes and businesses. The rest of the chapters are focused on answering the question, how innovative companies and tram comprising many people build the code for innovation into their people, processes, and philosophies?

In the first chapter, the DNA of the disruptive innovators, the authors argue that creativity is not a genetic predisposition, but is an active endeavor. Based on their research on five hundred innovators compared to about five thousand executives, the authors classify five discovery skills that make innovators special. They argue that innovators' DNA carries strong cognitive trait of association, and behavioral skills of passionate questioning, intense observing, diverse networking, and continual experimenting. The authors expound that innovators are passionate and courageous to continually innovate.

In the second chapter, discovery skill #1, associating, the authors dwell on the dynamics of combinatorial play, and how innovators use diverse associations to propel great business ideas. Stressing on cross-pollination of experiences, and perspectives, the authors details how disruptive innovator create odd combinations of different concepts, zoom in and out into the depth of details while collecting lots of ideas to connect the dots across diverse experiences to synthesize disruptive thoughts.

In the third chapter, discovery skill #2, questioning, the authors describe how innovators treat the world as a question mark, always on an autopilot mode, instinctively ignoring safe questions, and opting for crazy ones, challenging the status quo, common wisdom, and often threatening the powers that be with uncommon intensity and frequency. The authors expound that questioning is a way of life for innovators and elucidates how vital it is to inculcate the habit of asking descriptive questions like what is?, what caused?, and disruptive questions such as why?, why not?, and what if?

In the fourth chapter, discovery skill #3, observing, the authors showcase how innovators always keep their intense observation skills turned on, carefully scanning the world around them, and sensitized to what doesn't work. The authors argue that such observations often engage multiple senses, and prompt compelling questions. They reflect on how innovators generate business insights keenly observing people, processes, companies or technologies and seeing a solution that can be applied in a different context. They visit new environments, look for surprises, always on an exploratory journey in all they do.

In the fifth chapter, discovery skill #4, networking the authors explain how
Innovators gain a radically different perspective unlike typical delivery executives through an enriching network of diverse individuals. They stress that out-of-box-thinking necessitates tapping outside experts, through idea networking, going out of way to meet people with different backgrounds and perspectives. Networking is most likely to spark innovative ideas, the authors aver.

In the sixth chapter, discovery skill #5 experimenting, the authors stress that for the innovators, the world is their lab, they always try out new experiences, taking things apart, testing ideas by creating prototypes, and running pilots. They further argue that though questioning, observing, and networking are excellent for providing data about past and future, experimenting is the best way to generate data to achieve success and shape the future. It points out that most innovators remain undeterred by the outcome of their experiments.

In chapter seven, the authors explain in detail the DNA of the most innovative companies, and how they build their code for innovation right into their organization's 3Ps: people, processes and philosophies. It establishes that leading by founder leaders who excelled at discovery, such companies have more people with stronger discovery skills at all levels, and a culture of systematic processes to infuse same skills in all employees. The philosophies of such firms include innovation is everyone's job, disruptive innovation as part of portfolio, lots of small project teams, and smart risks, the book explains.

In chapter eight the authors focus on "People", and how to put the Innovator's DNA into practice. They explain how innovation distinguishes leaders from followers. The authors further argue that in world's most innovative companies senior executive don't delegate innovation, they lead the innovation charge with a high discovery quotient and regularly contribute innovative ideas. The authors stress that innovative companies find novel ways to hire discovery driven people who have a track record of innovation and a strong desire to change the world.

Chapter nine illuminates the readers on "Processes", and how to put the Innovator's DNA into practice. The authors reveal that the DNA of the innovative organizations reflects the DNA of innovative individuals. They elucidate that just as innovative people systematically engage in questioning, observing, networking and experimenting to trigger new ideas, innovative organizations develop systematic processes that encourage the same skills in employees. By creating organizational processes that mirror their individual discovery behaviors, innovative leaders build their personal innovator's DNA into their organization, the authors assert.

Chapter ten stretches the imagination on "Philosophies", and how to put the Innovator's DNA into practice. The authors explain that highly innovative companies live by a set of key innovation philosophies that instill a deep enterprise-wide commitment to innovation. They profess that such companies make clear that innovation is everyone's job, that disruptive innovation is vital, that they create lots of small project teams endowed with the right people, structures, and resources to power new ideas to market, and they knowingly take risk in their pursuit of innovation. The authors maintain that such philosophies drive a culture that only ignites new ideas, but helps them make a dent in the universe.

In the concluding part the authors stress on the imperative to act different, think different, and making a difference to the worlds around us. They stress that though the innovators journey, individually or collectively, can often feel like a road less travelled, the road is worth taking because it just make all the difference in one's live and initiate meaningful change in the lives of people. The authors emphasize that innovation is an investment for individuals and companies alike. The chapter sums up with a provocative thought "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are ones who do. So, just do it. Do it now."

There are Three Appendices at the end which capture the sample of innovators interviewed, the Innovator's DNA inductive research methodology - and how to develop strong discovery skills in individuals, in the next generation, in the homes and neighborhood. The authors share a final call for action to adopt a young innovator, at least one child, and help hone his innovation skills, the only way to nurture our future by a new generation of disruptive innovators.

A critical insight from the author's research is that one's ability to generate innovative ideas is not merely the function of the mind, but also a function of behaviors. What sets this book apart and makes it hard to put down is its simple, conversational narrative and the way it dismantles the commonly held ivory tower notion of innovation and puts the focus on how innovation is relevant for all, and how it can be practiced with ease, not just the business, but even for the common man or even the children and how it can play a vital role in bringing up societal progress and nurturing our future.

The only thing which could have been better in the book is The authors' final call for action dwells on an appeal to adopting young innovators, finding at least one child, and helping him/her appreciate and strengthen the innovative skills, the great way to bring in a difference to the world around us. Indeed, a book that makes you more resolute to the larger human cause. Indeed, if we don't collectively nurture the next generation of disruptive innovators, in our homes in our neighborhood who will?

The book makes one reminiscent of a quote by the founder of one of the most innovative companies of the world IBM, Thomas J. Watson who said, "All the problems of the world could be settled easily if men were only willing to think. The trouble is that men very often resort to all sorts of devices in order not to think, because thinking is such hard work." Indeed, this book is a gripping work, a great leveler to stimulate innovation across the spectrum, in all walks of life.

Are we ready to tread this path, venture into the realm of unanswered queries of humankind and unravel the mysteries?

Let's just do it. The time to act is now...
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on October 8, 2011
I now pick up and read, as a matter of course, anything published by either Hal Gregersen or Clayton Christensen. I felt, accordingly, doubly compelled to read a book collaboratively written by Gregersen and Christensen. The Innovator's DNA is a must-read for anyone who aspires to be innovative.

The book provides insights into the principal five practices shared by innovators. While the practices highlighted are not surprising (Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking and Experimenting), each practice is rendered highly accessible through examples, and, indeed, almost a mini-taxonomy.

How many times have we been told that innovators are inveterate questioners? Well, this book tells you about the types of questions innovators ask and provides concrete examples of each type of question.

Read the book once to acquire the overall idea, then use it as a reference guide. "Truth," as Nietzsche said, "Approaches on the feet of doves."
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on July 20, 2012
The content is nothing but common. Chapters 1-6 are ok but the rest is redundant. If you consider yourself at the absolute low end of the spectrum on innovation then this book is a definite read. If you consider yourself at least average avoid buying the book. Just read the title of the chapters and the rest you can figure out yourself.
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on November 8, 2013
Here is another book review with perspective with how the content can be applied to education. This is how I always read my materials.

On with the review.

Book website: [...]

This book was another fascinating read. I have been blessed to have read many great books in a row. This one is another one that all people should read.

The authors conducted an eight year study that established 5 Skills that all innovators possess.

1. Association
2. Question
3. Observe
4. Network
5. Experiment

When I think of these five skills I don't think of successful people despite that many have these skills, but I instantly think of kids. All kids have these five skills. The key idea that I left this book with is that schools and society must change to quit killing these skills in youth. My young children possess these skills, but as they get older I fear they will lose these vital skills to be successful in life.

It is hard to innovate when structure does not change and even more so in schools with such limited scope when educators are forced to fight for obedience instead of learning.

The authors mention that large companies typically fail at disrupting innovation because top management team is dominant by people with delivery skills, not discovery skills. I think this holds true in some regards in education as well. The schools that deliver have administration that get it and work for discovery and testing the edge of chaos.

If we want this to change then I think the honest question must be

How does your company/school reward and promote discovery skills?

I am not suggesting that we just go wild fire and leave things completely wide open without restriction. Creativity loves constraint. We must remember that questions alone do not produce innovation. They are necessary, but insufficient. We need those people that can deliver. You need big ideas, but you need those who work through the details to get it done. In schools I think it would be amazing if we took time to assemble teacher teams divided up by these skills. You need teams with a variety of skills and abilities. Discovery driven people are not all that matters

The book talks about people who would be good for teams and innovation. I like these skills for educators as well. I often wonder if colleges prepare student teachers for these skills and more importantly are schools screening teachers with these skills. If not, then I think this is something that needs to be addressed. The skills are

1. Show a track record that demonstrate discovery skills
2. Possess deep expertise in at least on knowledge area and show breadth in a few others (T shaped knowledge)
3. Display a passion to change world and make a difference

If we know that innovators and creators are going to be the face of change and the future of business, then we as educators and schools need to shift how we teach and the values we express. I think we are in a pivotal time that we must begin to change some things up. Not everything is broken, but we are in need of an update.

This book was an essential read that left me with many great ideas to think about and items that I need to address. My current goal as a result of this book is to create a place for teachers to come tinker, explore, question, observe, and experiment. I am calling it Tinker Time and it starts this week. I will continue to push myself as an educator to allow more of these 5 skills to develop in my classroom and school.
- See more at: [...]
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on March 13, 2016
Awesome book. Really opens your mind up to innovation, and makes you think about how you can practice innovative thinking and practices. This book is an easy read, and although I got it for a class - it maybe the first book in a class that I've actually read. The five discovery skills of innovative leaders are essential to innovative thinking.

1. Association
Dyer et al (2011) describe how disruptive innovators associate by zooming in and out, “…they dive deep into the details to understand the subtle nuances of a particular customer experience, and then they fly high to see how the details fit into the bigger picture.”
2. Questioning
Dyer et al (2011), describe the skill of questioning as questions that challenge the status quo.
3. Observing
Observing is a discovery skill that disruptive innovators use on an ongoing basis
4. Networking:
Dyer et al (2011) describes networking as linking into the ideas of others who are outside your sphere.
5. Experimenting
Experimenting with ideas and acting on associations through observations.

According to Dyer, J., Gregersen, H., & Christensen (2011) there are five discovery skills that disruptive innovators have in common, and use on a regular basis. This discovery skill set consists of associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.
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on December 5, 2015
This is a very interesting book written by some Harvard profs. They did a large national survey of innovative businesses and their leaders. The book posits that innovative people follow five skills: associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting. These skills can be found at the individual or organizational level. The idea is that most people have these skills in their DNA and can bring them out with some practice. There are a lot of interesting and inspiring examples like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. Although this book seems like a self-help type book with a lot of hype, it has an academic underpinning. Any organization that is interested in promoting innovation could benefit from encouraging these 5 skills. If you are interested in innovation or creativity in business or any organization that produces something, you will like this book. The books is a little distracting to read because it has sidebars all through it giving interesting examples that break up reading concentration. Aside from that, it is a well-written book that is easy and enjoyable to read. I enjoyed the book greatly and found it to be inspiring.
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