The Innovator’s DNA by Clayton M. Christensen, Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen

The title of the book alone deserves mentioning; it is that smart. The subheading: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, could have been used, but it doesn’t quite have the edge that captures—that seems to imply: “DNA can be changed!… gotta buy this right now! ….could change it during my summer vacation!” (Yes, you could—if your vacation time was 1,459,999,999,979 trillion days longer—which is how long it’s taken DNA to evolve.)

The key phrase in the above is “the edge that captures”. It’s what this book is about: how 100 successful product inventors and 5,000 entrepreneurs all over the world captured their most valuable and novel business idea. As the origins of innovative business ideas were uncovered, five inborn proficiencies were highlighted. The startling news?

The five skills of innovators are behaviours. Behaviours are learnable.

You and I can become Innovators

The Five Skills of Innovators

  1. Question: What creates detours? What’s missing? What’s possible?
  2. Observe: Study actions, conduct, habits of people wherever you go.
  3. Network: Get radical viewpoints from dissimilar people.
  4. Experiment: Mix it up. Take something apart; create another use for it.
  5. Associational Thinking: Think about the ideas behind diverse products/markets. Jot them down, create links between them, and new ideas will arise.

While discovery skills and the ideas they produce are important, delivery skills are on par. If an innovator cannot execute or is unable to pass through the obstacles such as internal bureaucracy, convincing the others or defining the whole process, the brilliant idea is for naught. As Hal Gregersen recently remarked: “Most innovators collaborated with results driven people to get things done. It was rarely a solo [effort].” If you’re a discoverer, find a deliverer.

For the regular day-to-day work? If you’re in product development, weight your team with discoverers, and add a dash of deliverers. And if you are in sales, your compliment will be plenty of deliverers and a couple of discoverers. If you can’t create the right mix, partner up with another team who has the skills your team is missing.

Backed by an eight-year collaborative study, The Innovator’s DNA is pages, paragraphs and snippets-full of provocative stories about the kind of blaze-the-trail thinking that started such concerns as: Starbucks, Google,, Virgin, e-Bay, Microsoft, IDEO, Apple, Skype, to name a few of the many discussed. (Given Common Outlook is well known for providing collaboration expertise, we were particularly interested in the collaborative alliances created at P & G that led to the making of Crest “White Strips”.)

The book is intelligent, insightful, and extremely well crafted. Chapters and stories flow smoothly; diagrams are immediately understandable; the writing itself is simple, clear and engaging. Even the Appendices (E.g., children opening your mind) and Bibliography (E.g. how the innovation premium is calculated), are excellent.

Above all, the book is encouraging. Those ‘speak out of turn/questioning troublemakers’, those ‘wild cards’ who take our breath away, those of the ‘truly unruly’ clan, have innate skills we tamer creatures can discover, nuance and adopt. We don’t need ancestry touting its glorious deoxyribonucleic acid; we do need abilities and skills.

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