The Entrepreneur’s DNA

Last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal had a special section on “Unleashing Innovation,” with stories that emerged from a recent conference in Singapore. I was particularly interested in an interview with Hal Gregersen, a professor of innovation at Insead business school, and a coauthor (with Jeff Dyer and Clayton Christensen) of The Innovator’s DNA. The “DNA” refers to the five defining traits of innovative people:

  • Associating: Drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from related fields
  • Questioning: Posing queries that challenge common wisdom.
  • Networking: Meeting people with different ideas and perspectives.
  • Observing: Scrutinizing the behavior of customers, suppliers and competitors to identify new ways of doing things.
  • Experimenting: Constructing interactive experiences and providing unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge.

In my forthcoming book Zig Zag, I draw on creativity research to identify eight “habits of mind” or disciplines that lead to greater creativity. The overlap with Gregersen’s five is pretty close!

  • “Associating” is essentially identical to my sixth step, FUSE.
  • “Questioning” is just like my first step, ASK.
  • “Networking” overlaps with a couple of my steps, but mostly with LOOK, or staying aware and mindful of new ideas. “Networking” is even more closely associated with my 2007 book Group Genius.
  • “Observing” is basically the same as my third step, LOOK.
  • “Experimenting” is similar to my eighth and final step, MAKE. For me, MAKE is about externalizing your ideas early and often, and then to interact, refine, and revise.

I’m excited to see that Gregersen’s research shows that entrepreneurs are particularly good at engaging in these five activities. In addition, my research shows that these work for all creativity, not only entrepreneurship but also visual arts, music, science, cooking, family life…the eight steps of Zig Zag lead to greater creativity in all aspects of your life.

*Gregerson, Feb 26, 2013, “The Entrepreneur’s DNA.” WSJ, page B13.

Wall Street Journal Innovation Awards

Today’s WSJ (Monday October 17, 2011) has a special section reporting their 2011 annual Technology Innovation Awards. From 605 applications, a panel of judges chose 35 winners and runners-up in 16 categories. 

Award winners that impressed me included:

  • IBM’s Watson computer winning at Jeopardy against two world champions (Watson won the bronze award)
  • E Ink, the company that made the “electronic paper” used in Amazon’s Kindle, has a new color version of their e-paper (it will be used in an e-reader built by Hanvon Technologies to ship later this month)
  • Abbott Laboratories has developed a stent that’s reabsorbed into the vessel once it’s no longer needed
  • Streetline Inc. developed an app for smartphones and in-car navigation systems that shows you where to find a parking spot nearby

I also like the story about what happened to award winners from years past. Many of them have been quite successful commercially, but the Tata Nano (2008 award winner) is one that hasn’t fared so well, with sales dropping.

I also enjoyed reading the story about how to be more creative by David Kelley, one of the founders of the IDEO design firm (p. R5). There’s an insert about the new book The Innovator’s DNA that interviewed 100 innovative entrepreneurs and executives to identify five key skills of innovators: associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting. These are consistent with the psychological research in my field (although I would add several more to the list).

Also in today’s issue, on page B7 is a great story about how companies can foster creativity and innovation by tapping into the creativity of everyone in the company, by gathering their many ideas together in ways kind of like the traditional suggestion box, but far more sophisticated (and much more likely to get to senior management and to get implemented). This is exactly what I advocate in my 2007 book Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, as a powerful technique to harness the collaborative power of everyone in an organization.

Brigham Young University

I’m spending three days in Provo, Utah, where I’ve just completed three guest lectures.

1. “Emergent innovation.” At the Marriott School of Business, to the Department of Organizational Leadership and Strategy (chaired by the famous Jeff Dyer). Teppo Felin, who runs the orgtheory.wordpress blog, was a gracious host.

2. “Educating for innovation: The learning sciences and the future of schooling.” McKay School of Education, Department of Instructional Psychology and Technology.

3. “Group creativity: How collaboration enhances group creativity and group learning.” Also at the McKay School. Rick West was a gracious host, and he was who extended the original invitation.

The conversations after these talks, and over meals with colleagues, was stimulating and sparked many ideas! I very much enjoyed the visit.