The Innovators DNA: What Sets Them Apart
The most successful innovators share a set of skills that distinguishes them from others. These five skills were identified in a new study published in the book “The Innovator’s DNA.” The study suggests that the ability to create innovative ideas is not just a function of the mind but also a function of behaviors. This means that if we change our behaviors, we can improve our innovative abilities.
The Five Skills That Set Innovators Apart
According to the study, the most innovative people possess five skills that set them apart:
Innovators are skilled at asking questions that challenge common wisdom. They pose queries that push people to think beyond the norm, leading to new and innovative ideas.
Questioning is about challenging the status quo and looking at things from a different perspective. It involves asking “why” and “what if” questions that inspire new ways of thinking. Innovators often question everything, from the way things are done to the assumptions that underpin them.
For example, Steve Jobs famously asked, “Why does a computer need a fan?” This led to the development of the first fanless computer, the MacBook Air.
Innovators with the Innovators DNA constantly challenge common wisdom by posing queries that others may not have thought of. By questioning assumptions, innovators can uncover new and better ways of doing things.
For example, Steve Jobs often challenged his team with questions like “Why does it have to be this way?” and “What if we did it differently?”
Innovators scrutinize the behavior of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things. They carefully observe the world around them, searching for insights that others may have missed.
Observing involves paying attention to the details and being curious about the world. Innovators are keen observers of human behavior, which enables them to identify unmet needs and develop innovative solutions.
For example, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia noticed that hotel rooms were in short supply during a conference in San Francisco. He and his co-founder decided to rent out air mattresses in their apartment to conference attendees, which led to the creation of Airbnb.
Innovators with the Innovators DNA pay close attention to the world around them and scrutinize the behavior of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things. This allows them to spot opportunities and trends that others may miss.
For example, Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, noticed that European coffee shops were often meeting places for people in their communities. He brought this idea back to the United States and created a new kind of coffee shop that focused on community and atmosphere as much as coffee.
Innovators are skilled at meeting people with different ideas and perspectives. They build diverse networks, which allow them to draw upon a range of experiences and viewpoints to generate innovative ideas.
Networking involves connecting with people from different backgrounds and disciplines. Innovators know that diverse perspectives can lead to breakthrough ideas. They actively seek out new relationships and collaborations, which enables them to access new ideas and knowledge.
For example, the founder of TOMS shoes, Blake Mycoskie, built a network of social entrepreneurs, which inspired him to create a business model that donated a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased.
Innovators with the Innovators DNA actively seek out new ideas and perspectives by meeting people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This helps them to broaden their knowledge and make connections that can lead to innovative collaborations and partnerships.
For example, Mark Zuckerberg famously met with business leaders like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to learn from their experiences and gain new insights into business strategy.
Innovators are unafraid to construct interactive experiences and provoke unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge. They experiment with new ideas and approaches, learning from their successes and failures along the way.
Experimenting involves taking risks and trying new things. Innovators are comfortable with uncertainty and failure, which enables them to learn and iterate quickly. They are not afraid to challenge the status quo and try new approaches.
For example, the founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely, experimented with different materials and designs for her shapewear until she found a solution that worked. She even cut the feet off of her pantyhose to create a prototype.
Innovators with the Innovators DNA are not afraid to take risks and experiment with new ideas and approaches. By testing and prototyping new concepts, they can learn what works and what doesn’t, and use this information to refine their ideas and strategies.
For example, the popular photo-sharing app Instagram started as a location-based social network called Burbn. When the founders noticed that users were only using one feature of the app – photo sharing – they decided to pivot and focus solely on that feature, which led to the creation of Instagram.
The final skill that distinguishes innovators is associating – the ability to draw connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields. This is often where breakthrough innovations come from, as it involves taking inspiration from unexpected sources and applying them to new contexts. Innovators are skilled at drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields. They have a knack for seeing patterns and connections where others see only chaos.
Associating involves connecting seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts. Innovators have the ability to see patterns and connections that others miss, which enables them to develop breakthrough ideas.
For example, the idea for the Swiffer cleaning system came from observing how astronauts cleaned up spills in zero gravity. The inventor realized that a similar concept could be applied to household cleaning to make it easier and more effective.
Innovators with the Innovators DNA are able to draw connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields. This allows them to take inspiration from unexpected sources and apply them to new contexts, leading to breakthrough innovations.
For example, the idea for the first Post-It Notes came from a failed attempt to create a super-strong adhesive. Instead of throwing away the weak adhesive, the inventor realized it could be used to create a temporary, repositionable adhesive for notes.
Developing your Innovators DNA can lead to more successes
When using these skills—questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting, researchers found it triggered associational thinking to generate new businesses, products and services. Most of people believe creativity happens all in the brain, but this new study illustrates that one’s ability to create innovative ideas is not just a function of the mind, but also a function of behaviors. This means that if we change our behaviors, we can improve our innovative abilities.
In conclusion, the Innovators DNA – the combination of questioning, observing, networking, experimenting, and associating – is essential for generating innovative ideas and solutions. By cultivating these skills, anyone can become more innovative and impactful in their personal and professional lives. The Innovators DNA is not just about having a “creative” mind – it’s about taking a deliberate, structured approach to problem-solving that involves a range of different skills and perspectives.