The 5 Skills of Disruptive Innovators

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen is considered to be one of the world’s leading thinkers on innovation.

His new book, The Innovator’s DNA, analyzes the traits of the world’s most innovative companies.

Christensen believes that highly innovative leaders (think Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, etc.) are not just freaks of nature, endowed with a special  innovation gene.

He believes innovation comes from a series of behaviors that can be practiced.

In a thought provoking August 2011 article in Forbes magazine, Christensen (and co-authors Dyer and Gregersen) list “the five skills of disruptive innovators”:

  • Questioning allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities;
  • Observing helps innovators detect small details—in the activities of customers, suppliers and other companies—that suggest new ways of doing things;
  • Networking permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds;
  • Experimenting prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart and test new ideas;
  • Associational thinking—drawing connections among questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields—is triggered by questioning, observing, networking and experimenting and is the catalyst for creative ideas.

Questioning, observing, networking, experimenting, associational thinking.

Looks easy enough.  So why is it so hard to do?

After all, no single of these behaviors is that difficult to practice.

The bigger challenge is to doing them in the midst of our current climate.

A stressed out, busy, short-term focused, risk averse climate does not support these behaviors.

To practice these 5 behaviors means change.

It means stepping off of the treadmill of routine, and having fresh eyes to see with.

It means you’re no longer willing to continue with the ordinary.

If we want to achieve extraordinary results, we have to do un-ordinary things.

That can feel dangerous.

Innovation takes courage.    The willingness to “fail”–and see failure as a learning opportunity.

Because that’s what it is: feedback about what didn’t work.

Questioning, observing, networking, experimenting, associational thinking.

Where could you do more of these today?

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