Book Review | The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators

There has been a lot written in recent years about disruptive innovation. The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen is a great read for anyone desiring to be the best they can be for their team or organization. It was a privilege to read this one at the beach this past week. I enjoyed the people watching that comes along with being at the beach as well as the opportunities to observe how different people approach vacation. We all have different rhythms of rest.

Where do you see opportunities for disruptive innovation? What things do you run across in a daily basis that could be made better? What questions do you have about regular ordinary processes?

Disruptive Innovation centers around 5 main skills: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking, and Experimenting.

Connect, Ask, Watch, Learn, and Try. Seems to me like these are the basics of education as well. What do you want to improve today?

I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…

  • Most of us think creativity is an entirely cognitive skill; it all happens in the brain. A critical insight from our research is that one’s ability to generate innovative ideas is not merely a 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 improve our creative impact. p. 3
  • All leaders have problems and opportunities sitting in front of them for which they have no solution. p. 10
  • When we examine the origin of great ideas, we typically find that the catalyst was: (1) a question that challenged the status quo, (2) an observation of a technology, company, or customer, (3) an experience or experiment where he was trying out something new, or (4) a conversation with someone who alerted him to an important piece of knowledge or opportunity. p. 21
  • The other four discovery skills trigger associational thinking by helping innovators increase their stock of building-block ideas from which innovative ideas spring. Specifically, innovators engage the following behavioral skills more frequently:
    • Questioning. Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquiry.
    • Observing. Innovators are also intense observers.
    • Networking. Innovators spend a lot of time and energy finding and testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals who vary wildly in their backgrounds and perspectives.
    • Experimenting. Finally, innovators are constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. p. 24
  • “If the people running Amazon don’t make some significant mistakes,” Jeff Bezos told us, “then we won’t be doing a good job for our shareholders because we won’t be swinging for the fences.” p. 26
  • In contract to innovators who seek to fundamentally change existing business models, products, or processes, most senior executives work hard to efficiently deliver the next thing that should be done given the existing business model. That is, they work inside the box. They shine at converting a vision or goal into the specific tasks to achieve the defined goal. They organize work and conscientiously execute logical, detailed, data-driven plans of action. In short, most executives excel at execution, including the following four delivery skills: analyzing, planning, detail-oriented implementing, and disciplined executing. p. 31
  • The key point here is that large companies typically fail at disruptive innovation because the top management team is dominated by individuals who have been selected for delivery skills, not discovery skills. p. 37
  • “Creativity is just connecting things.” – Steve Jobs p. 41
  • Innovating ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others’ or our own. Throughout history, great ideas have emerged from these crossroads of culture and experience. p. 45
  • Frans Johansson coined the term “Medici effect” to describe the spark that occurs in a geographic space or market space where a combination of novel ideas coalesce into something quite surprising. p. 46
  • Finding the right question, making compelling observations, talking with diverse people, and experimenting with the world usually delivers productive, relevant associational insights. p. 51
  • Innovative entrepreneurs often exhibit the capacity to do two things at once: they dive deep into the details to understand the nuances of a particular customer experience, and they fly high to see how the details fit into the bigger picture. p. 54
  • If innovators have one thing in common, it is that they love to collect ideas like kids love to collect Legos. p. 56
  • If all else fails when trying to figure out a problem, go to sleep. p. 59
  • Disruptive innovators force themselves to cross borders (technical, functional, social, disciplinary) as they engage in the other discovery skills. p. 60
  • Questions hold the potential to cultivate creative insights. p. 70
  • One technique that innovators use when imagining the future is to ask what-if questions that either impose constraints or eliminate constraints. p. 80
  • Leaders who ask questions as they observe discover more than those who don’t. Leaders who ask questions as they network for new ideas discover more than those who don’t. Leaders who ask questions as they experiment discover more than those who don’t. p. 85
  • We all know about brainstorming, a process in which you get together as a team and brainstorm solutions to a problem. QuestionStorming is similar, but instead of focusing on solutions, you brainstorm questions about the problem. p. 87
  • When you notice a workaround, pay attention, as it might provide clues for how to create an entirely new product, service, or business to do the job. p. 102
  • “When a person thinks on his own, without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people, is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous.” –Albert Einstein, p. 115
  • The bottom line is that if you ask salient questions, observe salient situations, and talk to more diverse people, you will likely need to run fewer experiments. p. 153
  • Innovators engage in three types of experimenting to generate data and spark new insights: trying out new experiences, taking things apart, and testing ideas by creating prototypes and pilots. Although questioning, observing, and networking are excellent for providing data about the past and present, experimenting is the best technique for generating data on what might work in the future. p. 154
  • These organizational discovery processes are supported by four guiding philosophies that imbue employees with the courage to try out new ideas: (1) innovation is everyone’s job, (2) disruptive innovation is part of our innovation portfolio, (3) we should deploy lots of small, properly organized innovation project teams, and (4) we should take smart risks in the pursuit of innovation. p. 175
  • “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs p. 179
  • In summary, the most innovative companies in the world have leaders who understand innovation at a deeply personal level. They lead the innovation charge with a high discovery quotient and regularly contribute innovative ideas to the company. p. 196
  • Does your organization expect you to innovate in your job? Is innovation an explicit part of your performance reviews? p. 230
  • “Care about something enough to do something about it.” – Richard Branson p. 243
  • Innovation is an investment. p. 248

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