If you believe, everything that can be invented has been invented, and there is no compelling reason for the humanity to continually innovate, then certainly, this is not the book for you. However, you will be glued to The Innovator's DNA - if you are intrigued by questions like: How can I become more innovative myself? How can we infuse a culture of innovation? What is the secret sauce that differentiates the most successful enterprises and innovative individuals? How visionary entrepreneurs like Apple's Steve Jobs, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, eBay's Pierre Omidyar, and P&G's A.G. Lafley come up with groundbreaking new ideas? If you want to bring in a difference to the world around you and improve the quality of lives, then The Innovator's DNA is a hard to put down.
Authored by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gergersen, and Clayton M. Christensen, and published by the Harvard Business Review Press in 2011, The Innovator's DNA, deciphers the mystique genome of disruptive innovators, and simplifies the complex aura that is often woven around innovation, thereby, democratizing the notion of innovation. Based on an eight-year inductive and exploratory, interview-based, research methodology to unravel the origins of creative, and often disruptive business strategies in particularly innovative companies, the authors microscopically examine the habits of innovative entrepreneurs, over 3,000 executives and 500 individuals who had started innovative companies or invented new products/services. The results of this study was first published in a leading academic journal, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, and then later published in another article that was the runner-up for the 2009 Harvard Business Review McKinsey Award.
While the first part of the book focuses on how disruptive innovation can start with you as an individual, the second part deals with the DNA of disruptive organizations and teams. The first six chapters describe how innovative people think differently and act differently to generate creative ideas for new products, services, processes and businesses. The rest of the chapters are focused on answering the question, how innovative companies and tram comprising many people build the code for innovation into their people, processes, and philosophies?
In the first chapter, the DNA of the disruptive innovators, the authors argue that creativity is not a genetic predisposition, but is an active endeavor. Based on their research on five hundred innovators compared to about five thousand executives, the authors classify five discovery skills that make innovators special. They argue that innovators' DNA carries strong cognitive trait of association, and behavioral skills of passionate questioning, intense observing, diverse networking, and continual experimenting. The authors expound that innovators are passionate and courageous to continually innovate.
In the second chapter, discovery skill #1, associating, the authors dwell on the dynamics of combinatorial play, and how innovators use diverse associations to propel great business ideas. Stressing on cross-pollination of experiences, and perspectives, the authors details how disruptive innovator create odd combinations of different concepts, zoom in and out into the depth of details while collecting lots of ideas to connect the dots across diverse experiences to synthesize disruptive thoughts.
In the third chapter, discovery skill #2, questioning, the authors describe how innovators treat the world as a question mark, always on an autopilot mode, instinctively ignoring safe questions, and opting for crazy ones, challenging the status quo, common wisdom, and often threatening the powers that be with uncommon intensity and frequency. The authors expound that questioning is a way of life for innovators and elucidates how vital it is to inculcate the habit of asking descriptive questions like what is?, what caused?, and disruptive questions such as why?, why not?, and what if?
In the fourth chapter, discovery skill #3, observing, the authors showcase how innovators always keep their intense observation skills turned on, carefully scanning the world around them, and sensitized to what doesn't work. The authors argue that such observations often engage multiple senses, and prompt compelling questions. They reflect on how innovators generate business insights keenly observing people, processes, companies or technologies and seeing a solution that can be applied in a different context. They visit new environments, look for surprises, always on an exploratory journey in all they do.
In the fifth chapter, discovery skill #4, networking the authors explain how
Innovators gain a radically different perspective unlike typical delivery executives through an enriching network of diverse individuals. They stress that out-of-box-thinking necessitates tapping outside experts, through idea networking, going out of way to meet people with different backgrounds and perspectives. Networking is most likely to spark innovative ideas, the authors aver.
In the sixth chapter, discovery skill #5 experimenting, the authors stress that for the innovators, the world is their lab, they always try out new experiences, taking things apart, testing ideas by creating prototypes, and running pilots. They further argue that though questioning, observing, and networking are excellent for providing data about past and future, experimenting is the best way to generate data to achieve success and shape the future. It points out that most innovators remain undeterred by the outcome of their experiments.
In chapter seven, the authors explain in detail the DNA of the most innovative companies, and how they build their code for innovation right into their organization's 3Ps: people, processes and philosophies. It establishes that leading by founder leaders who excelled at discovery, such companies have more people with stronger discovery skills at all levels, and a culture of systematic processes to infuse same skills in all employees. The philosophies of such firms include innovation is everyone's job, disruptive innovation as part of portfolio, lots of small project teams, and smart risks, the book explains.
In chapter eight the authors focus on "People", and how to put the Innovator's DNA into practice. They explain how innovation distinguishes leaders from followers. The authors further argue that in world's most innovative companies senior executive don't delegate innovation, they lead the innovation charge with a high discovery quotient and regularly contribute innovative ideas. The authors stress that innovative companies find novel ways to hire discovery driven people who have a track record of innovation and a strong desire to change the world.
Chapter nine illuminates the readers on "Processes", and how to put the Innovator's DNA into practice. The authors reveal that the DNA of the innovative organizations reflects the DNA of innovative individuals. They elucidate that just as innovative people systematically engage in questioning, observing, networking and experimenting to trigger new ideas, innovative organizations develop systematic processes that encourage the same skills in employees. By creating organizational processes that mirror their individual discovery behaviors, innovative leaders build their personal innovator's DNA into their organization, the authors assert.
Chapter ten stretches the imagination on "Philosophies", and how to put the Innovator's DNA into practice. The authors explain that highly innovative companies live by a set of key innovation philosophies that instill a deep enterprise-wide commitment to innovation. They profess that such companies make clear that innovation is everyone's job, that disruptive innovation is vital, that they create lots of small project teams endowed with the right people, structures, and resources to power new ideas to market, and they knowingly take risk in their pursuit of innovation. The authors maintain that such philosophies drive a culture that only ignites new ideas, but helps them make a dent in the universe.
In the concluding part the authors stress on the imperative to act different, think different, and making a difference to the worlds around us. They stress that though the innovators journey, individually or collectively, can often feel like a road less travelled, the road is worth taking because it just make all the difference in one's live and initiate meaningful change in the lives of people. The authors emphasize that innovation is an investment for individuals and companies alike. The chapter sums up with a provocative thought "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are ones who do. So, just do it. Do it now."
There are Three Appendices at the end which capture the sample of innovators interviewed, the Innovator's DNA inductive research methodology - and how to develop strong discovery skills in individuals, in the next generation, in the homes and neighborhood. The authors share a final call for action to adopt a young innovator, at least one child, and help hone his innovation skills, the only way to nurture our future by a new generation of disruptive innovators.
A critical insight from the author's research is that one's ability to generate innovative ideas is not merely the function of the mind, but also a function of behaviors. What sets this book apart and makes it hard to put down is its simple, conversational narrative and the way it dismantles the commonly held ivory tower notion of innovation and puts the focus on how innovation is relevant for all, and how it can be practiced with ease, not just the business, but even for the common man or even the children and how it can play a vital role in bringing up societal progress and nurturing our future.
The only thing which could have been better in the book is The authors' final call for action dwells on an appeal to adopting young innovators, finding at least one child, and helping him/her appreciate and strengthen the innovative skills, the great way to bring in a difference to the world around us. Indeed, a book that makes you more resolute to the larger human cause. Indeed, if we don't collectively nurture the next generation of disruptive innovators, in our homes in our neighborhood who will?
The book makes one reminiscent of a quote by the founder of one of the most innovative companies of the world IBM, Thomas J. Watson who said, "All the problems of the world could be settled easily if men were only willing to think. The trouble is that men very often resort to all sorts of devices in order not to think, because thinking is such hard work." Indeed, this book is a gripping work, a great leveler to stimulate innovation across the spectrum, in all walks of life.
Are we ready to tread this path, venture into the realm of unanswered queries of humankind and unravel the mysteries?
Let's just do it. The time to act is now...