I want to make a dent in the universe” – Steve Jobs
Innovation is the key to business survival and success in the 21st century. The billion dollar“The phrase described what happened in 1960, for example, when an unknown company, Sony,Recently a book coauthored by Clay Christensen, Jeff Dyer, and Hal Gregersen entitled – The question is: can innovation be learned? Can business leaders find answers to important questionssuch as: How do I find innovators for my business? How can I become more innovative? Can wedistill and mimic the traits of leading “disruptive innovators” like Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison?
Maureen Glabman in a 2009 article in MediMedia gives a succinct example illustrating the
meaning of the term “disruptive innovation”:
began selling an affordable transistor television that eventually replaced RCA’s vacuum tube.
Soon it became apparent the transistor alone — the disruptive technology — did not tell the
whole story. To achieve success, the technology had to be coupled with a whiz-bang business
plan, giving birth to the encompassing term ‘disruptive innovations.’ Sony, with its coveted
transistor TV that many people could afford, and a plan to sell its TVs through Kmart (then a new
retail chain), put both the more expensive RCA vacuum tube TVs, as well as the many mom-andpop
appliance stores that refused to sell Sony sets, essentially out of business.”
Innovators DNA (August 2011) answers these important questions by delving into the minds
of great innovators. It is important to note that Clay Christensen of the Harvard Business School
revolutionized the study of innovation when he wrote the best seller The Innovators Dilemma
(1997) which popularized the phrase “disruptive innovation.”
The Innovators DNA takes an important step forward. It tries to delve into the minds of iconic
innovators such as Steve Jobs of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Pierre Omidyar of eBay to
discover how they come up with disruptive innovations, how they differ from others, and what
businesses can learn from them.
The research underlying the book comprised a six-year study of innovative companies. The
examining how they developed their path-breaking ideas on which their businesses were built1. Associating.The authors define it as “cross-pollinating ideas in their own heads and in others.” It occurs when the brain attempts to synthesize and make sense of2. Questioning.This is a passion for enquiry that challenges the status quo. Top innovators are3. Observing.This is a passion for observing and understanding the world around us including4. Networking.This involves testing ideas via a diverse network of people who have radically5. Experimenting.Innovators continuously fiddle with their products as well their business- 3 -The real challenge for businesses in America at this time is to enhance and sustain the culture ofTapan Munroe, PhD, may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.“What Makes Silicon Valley Tick?” offers an account of the Valley’s enduringwww.ClosingAmericasJobGap.com.
A striking finding of the book is that, in most companies, the CEO does not feel that they are
responsible for originating key innovations. Instead they feel that they are responsible for the
stewardship of the innovation process. In contrast, in the most innovative companies (only fifteen
percent of the sample), the top executive does not delegate responsibility for innovation. They
themselves are the doers.
What are the key differences in the ways that disruptive innovators think versus typical
Disruptive innovators exhibit five key skills:
They connect wildly different ideas, objects, services, technologies and disciplines to dish up new
and unusual innovations.
novel inputs. New directions are discovered when connections are made across seemingly
unrelated questions. It is all about connecting the dots between different subjects, problems, and
ideas that others find unrelated. The authors theorize that innovators are 35 percent more likely to
come up with new ideas if they have lived in foreign countries. Creative associating is helped by
having depth in one area and breadth in many areas of expertise. This is the foremost cognitive
skill of disruptive innovators.
always asking why things are not done differently. This yields new insights, connections,
possibilities, and directions for their businesses.
customers, products, technologies, and businesses that ultimately gives rise to new ways of doing
varied perspectives. Many innovators are seen as misfits and loners. This is an erroneous
perception. Most top innovators are inveterate networkers. This is more than social networking;
it is about networking for revolutionary ideas that result in game-changing innovations. It is all
about idea mining from network of experts and not about “getting to know you” for another
contract or a business deal.
model. Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos is well known for that. They try out new ideas intellectually
and experimentally by visiting new places, trying new things, seeking new information.
The book adds a great deal to our understanding of the mind set of path-breaking innovators.
The thing that is missing from the book is a discussion on the innovators ability to create and
communicate a vision and help others to accept it. This is the sixth major skill and it is vital as
implementing major innovations involves a great deal of change and risk. The innovator must
convey a compelling vision and communicate it passionately so that others will get on board.
Steve Jobs of a master of that.
innovation internally. That takes a lot of doing; from hiring people with the skills from the outside
as well as teaching the five or six skills mentioned above internally. Establishing a culture of
innovation in America’s businesses will go a long way toward sustaining prosperity in America
in the 21st century.
economic vitality. It is available at Amazon.com.
Read commentaries on his forthcoming book on jobs at