“How do I find innovative people for my organization? And how can I become more innovative myself?” These are questions that stump most senior executives, who know that the ability to innovate is the “secret sauce” of business success. Perhaps for this reason most of us stand in awe of the work of visionary entrepreneurs such as Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, eBay’s Pierre Omidyar, and P&G’s A.G. Lafley. How do these individuals come up with groundbreaking new ideas?
In this article, Dyer, of Brigham Young University; Gregersen, of Insead; and Christensen, of Harvard Business School, reveal how innovative entrepreneurs differ from typical executives. Their study demonstrates that five “discovery skills” distinguish the most creative executives: Associating helps them discover new directions by making connections among seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas. Questioning allows innovators to break out of the status quo and consider new ideas. Through observing, innovators carefully and consistently look out for small behavioral details—in the activities of customers, suppliers, and other companies—to gain insights about new ways of doing things. In experimenting, they relentlessly try on new experiences and explore the world. And through networking with diverse individuals from an array of backgrounds, they gain radically different perspectives.