Book Review: 'The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators' by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen
The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen Harvard Business Review Press (2011)
How and why disruptive innovators maximize creative impact
As is true of others who have written business books that also offer breakthrough insights, the authors of this one set out to answer an especially important question: “Where do disruptive business models come from?” What Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen concluded is shared in this book. It’s too early to be certain, of course, but I think this book is destined to become a “business classic,” as have so many of the other books that Christensen has authored or co-authored. It is worth noting that The Innovator’s DNA emerged from an eight-year collaborative study, suggesting that its information, insights, and counsel are research-driven, anchored in the real world.
Some of the most valuable material was generated by interviews of dozens of “inventors of revolutionary products and services as well as founders and CEOs of game-changing companies build on innovative ideas.” They also include what they learned from Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Howard Schultz (whom they did not interview) whose innovative thinking has transformed entire industries. “We wanted to understand as much about these people as possible, including the moment (when and how) they came up with the creative ideas that launched new products or businesses.”
The title of this book refers to an aggregate of five primary discovery skills that enable various innovative entrepreneurs and executives to generate breakthrough ideas. “A critical insight from our research is that one’s ability to generate innovative ideas is not merely the 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 change our creative impact.”
It should also be noting that an abundance of entrepreneurial research throughout the past 17-20 years reveals that, in terms of personality traits or psychometric measures, entrepreneurs do not differ significantly from typical (even traditional) business executives. My take is that almost anyone in almost any workplace can develop the five discovery skills. The extent and velocity of that development will largely depend on leadership. “The bottom line: If you want innovation [enterprise wide], you need creativity skills within the top management team of your company.”
The co-authors include a disclaimer (sort of): “First, engaging in the discovery skills doesn’t ensure financial success…Second, failure (in a financial sense) often results from not being vigilant in engaging all the discovery skills…Third, we spotlight different innovators and innovative companies to illustrate key ideas or principles, but not [repeat NOT] to set them up as perfect examples of how to be innovative.”
The five Discovery Skills are hardly head-snappers: Associating with stimuli (mind, heart, and five senses); Questioning anything and everything, especially one’s assumptions and premises; Observing with intent and intensity, noting what many others miss; Networking by connecting people as well as dots while accessing new (i.e. unfamiliar) resources; and Experimenting (e.g. test the untested, disassemble and deconstruct, prototype, add new knowledge). In the most innovative organizations or portions thereof, all five are institutionalized in terms of incentives and rewards, division of labor, allocating resources, transparency, cross-functional collaboration, recognition/celebration, and (yes) protection for prudent but bold risk-takers.
Not everyone is willing and/or able to thrive in such a culture. Disruption is by nature messy, unpredictable, confusing, upsetting, and often threatening. When Joseph Schumpeter introduced the process of “creative destruction,” his ultimate objective was, in fact, creative creation. Just as Albert Einstein urges us to make everything as simple as possible but no simpler, Schumpeter urges us to destroy everything except what is essential…and then build on that. The authors of this book urge us to strengthen the five skills through individual and team initiatives that are guided and informed by a business model that, if it is designed properly, will be continuously self-disruptive.
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.