3 secrets to becoming more innovative

Recently, I’ve come cross an HBR article “The Innovator’s DNA”, in which they explain what makes some people innovative and what sets them apart from the rest of us? They also tried to answer the question why some companies are innovative and some are not? Where do the best ideas come from? The article is based on the study carried out by the professors from  Harvard, Insead and BrighamYoung University.

After 6 years they identified 5 secrets of being innovative.The findings are optimistic. The researchers say it’s not an inherent feature but it’s a set of skills that can be learned. According to the article, creativity is close to 80 percent learned and acquired. This means there is hope for almost everybody!

What are the best companies built on?

The researchers were trying to uncover the origins of creative business strategies in particularly innovative companies. They put innovative entrepreneurs under the microscope, examining when and how they came up with the ideas on which their businesses were built. The 6 year long study included 3000  executives and 500 companies that are renowned for their innovative approach like Dell, Amazon, Apple, eBay, etc. To their surprise, “at most companies, top executives do not feel personally responsible for coming up with strategic innovations. Rather, they feel responsible for facilitating the innovation process. In stark contrast, senior executives of the most innovative companies—a mere 15% in the study—don’t delegate creative work. They do it themselves.”

5 secrets of innovators

The researchers  identified 5 skills that are strictly responsible for being innovative. The below skills make up what they call the innovator’s DNA.

  1. Associating– ability to put together ideas and information in unique combination that nobody else put before. The key to being innovative is the ability to think out off the box.
  2. Observing– innovative people observe actively, like an anthropologist, they  scrutinize common phenomena.
  3. Questioning– they ask provocative and challenging questions of the world around them.They ask “why”, “what if”, “why not”.
  4. Experimenting– they expose themselves to new ideas, for them anything can be experimented upon.
  5. Networking– they meet diverse people with different perspectives and ideas.

How to become innovative?

One of the study authors, Gregersen, says anyone can become a better innovator, just by acting like one  ” Because the ability to think differently comes from acting differently”.  He recommends various techniques to start developing a creative approach.

1. Improve your questioning skills

Identify a problem and then write nothing but questions about it for 10 minutes a day for 30 days. Grenseng explains that over that period of time the questions will change along with understanding of the problem. Then you can compare the questions from the first day with these from the last and you can easily notice the thinking pattern change.

2. Enhance observation skills

In order to improve observation skills Gregersen suggests choosing a business, customer, supplier, or client, and spending a few days scrutinizing how they work so we can better understand the issues they have to deal with.

3. Networking with various people

Marc Ventresca,  a lecturer in strategic management at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School, claims that in order to become more innovative we should build a diverse network of contacts. Thanks to having more varied connections we are exposed to more diverse information, “and see patterns before other people”.

However, it’s not merely knowing a lot of people, but knowing people from diverse backgrounds, who work  in different industries, have different skills, and deal with different issues, and all this ensures that we are exposed to varied ideas.

Ventresca recommends  setting aside 30 minutes a week to talk with a person you wouldn’t normally talk to – for example someone you met at some conference or a diner a few months ago. Ventresca told CNN, “If you do that every week, that’s 52 conversations in a year taking up 26 hours of time. Say 10 of those yield something interesting, and two of those 10 let you do something new and valuable – by investing just 26 hours a year you’ve come up with something pretty remarkable.”

Sounds optimistic? If you don’t feel creative enough maybe it’s high time to get started with the exercises. On Monday obviously.