What are the characteristics of an Innovator?
Jorge Barba points to this “six-year study surveying 3,000 creative executives and conducting an additional 500 individual interviews” by Professors Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of Insead which became a HBR article and a book with their association with Clayton Christensen.
The challenge is not just knowing about them, but how to go about developing them. As a bonus, I have added a sixth!
Most successful innovators tend to be very good at seeing connections between seemingly disparate ideas.
The ability to ask “what if”, “why”, and “why not” questions that challenge the status quo and open up the bigger picture.
Attention to details, most notably in other people’s behavior.
Always try new things by constantly exploring new worlds.
Ability to talk and learn from people they have nothing in common with.
The associating has to come from various fields, the “latticework of models” that are needed for innovation. This idea comes from Charlie Munger, the Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.
Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ‘em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.
You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience both vicarious and direct on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.
For example, it is connecting design, business, arithmetic, accounting, psychology and social sciences and other disciplines to creating social change. Having all of these models in our head helps us to start associating and finding commonality that is normally not possible.
From the HBR article:
Entrepreneur Frans Johansson described this phenomenon as the “Medici effect,” referring to the creative explosion in Florence when the Medici family brought together people from a wide range of disciplines—sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, painters, and architects. As these individuals connected, new ideas blossomed at the intersections of their respective fields, thereby spawning the Renaissance, one of the most inventive eras in history.
Associating is more than that though. It is using ideas and connections from unconnected fields to make things better. For example, how this team of doctors learnt from Formula 1 that is saving lives.
Both keen sports fans, they tuned in to an F1 race. As one car pulled in for a pit stop, both doctors’ jaws dropped as they were struck by the same thought: here was a 20-member crew that could change a car’s tyres, fill it with fuel, clean the air intakes and send it roaring off –in seven seconds flat. They were coordinated, disciplined and rehearsed. Elliott turned to Goldman: “Why can’t we do it like this?”
As the authors suggest:
Likewise, Steve Jobs is able to generate idea after idea because he has spent a lifetime exploring new and unrelated things—the art of calligraphy, meditation practices in an Indian ashram, the fine details of a Mercedes-Benz.
“The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question,” – Drucker
In my experience, questioning is possibly the best way to change people’s perspective and approach. It is a hard skill to master but quite impactful.
Like the “5 most important questions” that Drucker asks.
What is your mission?
Who is the customer?
What does the customer value?
What are our results?
What is the plan?
Or the “5 questions every company should ask” like “The Purpose question” or “The abandonment question“. They generally lead you to something insightful and profound.
“Powers of observation can be developed by cultivating the habit of watching things with an active, enquiring mind. It is no exaggeration to say that well developed habits of observation are more important in research than large accumulations of academic learning.” — W. I. B. Beveridge in The Art of Scientific Investigation
Innovation starts with people but human behaviour is one of the hardest things to understand. People don’t always do what they say. They cannot imagine whether a future product is useful and they cannot predict what can be useful for them. As innovators, we would have our biases, customers will have their own biases. So how do we, the innovators, solve this. For that, you need to observe people in their context. Techniques like problem interviews, rapid ethnography, card sorting and other design tools are very useful to do that. I will write more about that soon.
From the HBR article:
Observers try all sorts of techniques to see the world in a
different light. Akio Toyoda regularly practices Toyota‟s philosophy of genchi genbutsu—“going to the spot and seeing for yourself.” Frequent direct observation is baked into the Toyota culture.
So what happens when we observe them? How do we know what they value and their priorities? One of the best frameworks I found for that is the job-to-be-done framework.
A job to be done (JTBD) is a revolutionary concept that guides you toward innovation and helps you move beyond the norm of only improving current solutions. A JTBD is not a product, service, or a specific solution; it’s the higher purpose for which customers buy products, services, and solutions.
Clayton Christensen explains “understanding the job” in this video.